Algerian workers began a four-day general strike last Sunday to protest against a fraudulent presidential election scheduled for this week.
In cities such as Tizi-Ouzou, Bejaia and Bouira, almost everything was closed. However the strike was less effective in the capital Algiers.
Large numbers of university
students across the country joined in with the action and called for stayaways from classes.
Algeria’s rulers called the poll for Thursday this week. But many people see it as an attempt by the elite to cling to power despite months of agitation seeking a total overhaul of the country’s political system.
For the last 42 weeks there have been demonstrations demanding the departure of the political class linked to former president Abdelaziz Bouteflika.
He quit in April following weeks of mass protests and strikes. There were very big marches on Friday last week.
Protesters said all five candidates seeking the presidency either
supported the former leader or participated in his government. Two served as prime ministers during Bouteflika’s two-decade tenure.
“No to voting, we swear we will not stop,” crowds chanted in Algiers.
“I am not against voting in itself, I am against this election because it is only serving to recycle Bouteflika figures,” teacher Fatiha Bendahmane told AFP news agency.
“We will have a new name but the same policies that destroyed the economy of this country. I will march today to say no to voting with this regime.”
Local media reported that last week’s rallies were the biggest since 1 November.
On that day people marched demanding a second
“liberation” on the 65th anniversary of the start of the war for independence from France. According to Amnesty International, Algerian authorities have “escalated their pre-election crackdown on protests” in recent weeks, “carrying out waves of arbitrary arrests”.
Salah Eddine Dahmoune, the interior minister, last week labelled the regime’s critics “pseudo-Algerians, traitors, mercenaries, perverts and homosexuals”.
Since Bouteflika stepped down, army chief Ahmed Gaid Salah has emerged as the country’s main powerbroker.
Salah called for a massive turnout in the poll, criticising what he dubbed efforts by detractors’ “plotting against the fatherland”.
Three days before the poll, in an effort to suggest genuine change, the Algerian prosecutor’s office requested 20-year prison sentences for several former politicians accused of corruption. They include two prime ministers who served under Bouteflika.
But such moves are unlikely to fool many people.
With youth unemployment officially at 28 percent and a stagnant economy, Algeria’s rulers are on shaky ground.