Algerians vote in low-key polls

Algeria's President Abdelaziz Bouteflika is seen with his nephew after casting vote during the local elections at a polling station in Algiers, Algeria on Thursday, November 23, 2017. (Reuters)
Updated 23 November 2017
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Algerians vote in low-key polls

ALGIERS: Algerians trickled to the polls Thursday to vote in local elections after a low-key campaign that has brought no expectation of change in the North African state.
In a rare public outing, President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who is expected to seek a fifth term in office in 2019, appeared in a wheelchair to cast his ballot paper at a polling station in Algiers.
Bouteflika, 80, who won a fourth term in 2014, has used a wheelchair for public appearances since a 2013 stroke.
Dozens of political parties and four alliances were competing for seats in over 1,500 city councils and 48 state legislatures.
Only the president’s ruling National Liberation Front (FLN) and its coalition ally, the National Democratic Rally (RND), have a nation-wide presence. They are expected to romp to victory.
Smaller parties have complained of bureaucratic obstacles to registering their candidates. Although a total of around 180,000 contenders were standing, voters have shown little enthusiasm for the poll.
“At each election we are promised a change... We are still waiting,” said Said Mohamedi, 65.
Another member of Algeria’s 22-million electorate, Mohamed, an unemployed 30-year-old, said he would not vote because “it will do absolutely nothing, things won’t change.”
Sociologist Nacer Djabi told AFP that turnout would likely be low, as in previous polls.
The campaign mainly focused on issues such as “the difficult economic situation... the 2018 budget law and the 2019 presidential election,” said analyst Belkacem Benzenine of Oran’s Center for Research in Social and Cultural Anthropology.
“Issues relating to local development... have been addressed only superficially,” he said.
A parliamentary election in May was marred by a 35-percent turnout and voter apathy over what many see as broken government promises and a political system tainted by corruption. Official results in the local polls are due on Friday.


Assad forces target fighters near Golan Heights

Nearly half of Syria's pre-war population of 23 million have been uprooted from their homes. AP
Updated 14 min 20 sec ago
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Assad forces target fighters near Golan Heights

  • Regime forces fired more than 800 missiles at an area between northern Daraa and the Quneitra countryside
  • In Daraa, the evacuation deal will hand over areas held by the fighters for years back to regime control

BEIRUT: Syrian regime forces unleashed hundreds of missiles on an opposition-held area near the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights on Sunday, activists said, the latest phase in an offensive to clear southern Syria of insurgents.
The regime’s push came after it had secured control of most of Daraa province in an offensive that began in June. On Sunday, the first batch of armed fighters and their families left the city of Daraa, the provincial capital, in buses that would take them to the opposition-held Idlib province in the north.
Similar deals in other parts of Syria resulted in the evacuation of thousands of opposition fighters and civilians — evacuations that the UN and rights groups have decried as forced displacement.
Syrian President Bashar Assad said Sunday the success in driving the opposition out of Daraa embodies the will of his army and allied forces to “liberate all of Syrian territories” of “terrorism.”
In recent months and backed by Russian air force, the Syrian regime has restored control of over 60 percent of previously opposition-held territory across the country.
Assad spoke during a meeting on Sunday with visiting Iranian Foreign Ministry official Hossein Jaberi Ansari. Assad’s office said the two agreed that the “elimination of terrorism in most of the Syrian territory has laid the most appropriate ground to reach results at the political level” that could put an end to Syria’s war.
Syria’s regime refers to all armed opposition groups as “terrorists” and accuses the West, Turkey, Israel and regional countries of supporting them.
The statement came a day before President Donald Trump and Russia’s Vladimir Putin are to meet in Finland. Syria is expected to feature highly on the agenda. Russia is a major Assad ally.
In Daraa, the evacuation deal will hand over areas held by the fighters for years back to regime control. Daraa, which lies on a highway linking Damascus with Jordan, was the cradle of the 2011 uprising against Syrian President Bashar Assad.
Since early Sunday, regime forces turned their missiles toward a stretch of land controlled by the armed opposition in northern Daraa and the countryside of adjacent Quneitra.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said regime forces fired more than 800 missiles at an area between northern Daraa and the Quneitra countryside, about 4 kilometers, or 2.5 miles, from the frontier with the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.
The Observatory said government forces advanced on Massharah, a village in Quneitra, and rebels fought back in intense clashes that killed several pro-government fighters. The pro-Syrian regime Central Military Media said a number of insurgents were killed in the clashes.
The Observatory reported airstrikes in Massharah, the first in over a year to hit the Quneitra countryside. It also reported airstrikes in a nearby village in northern Daraa, where regime forces have been trying to retake a key hill there after failing to reach a deal with the fighters. Capturing the hill would enable them to advance on militants in the area linked to Daesh.
Daraa activist Abou Mahmoud Hourani said an estimated 400 members of the armed opposition and their families will be evacuated out of Daraa.
Pro-regime TV Al-Ikhbariya said 10 buses carrying 407 people left for northern Syria.
The station said the evacuation of nearly 1,000 people was likely to be completed by Sunday.