Thousands of Algerian protesters gather in central Algiers: witnesses

Algerians gather for a demonstration in Algiers, Friday, March 8, 2019. They were then challenging Bouteflika’s fitness to run for a fifth term in next month’s election. (File/AP)
Updated 22 March 2019
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Thousands of Algerian protesters gather in central Algiers: witnesses

  • “Rain will not stop us from continuing our pressure,” said a protester
  • Protest numbers have grown dramatically after prayers on the three previous Fridays during the series of demonstrations that kicked off on Feb. 22

ALGIERS: The number of protesters gathered in central Algiers to demand the resignation of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika swiftly swelled into the thousands on Friday, a Reuters reporter on the scene said.
Crowds were growing even before Friday prayers had started after which even bigger numbers are expected to join to protest.

Earlier, hundreds of Algerians took to the streets of the capital to demand President Abdelaziz Bouteflika quit immediately.
Protesters gathered in the city center defying rain, carrying Algerian flags and pamphlets, gathering in the same spot where a wave of demonstrations erupted a month ago.
“Rain will not stop us from continuing our pressure,” said 23-year old Ahmed Khoudja.
Bouteflika, who has ruled for 20 years, bowed to the protesters last week by reversing plans to stand for a fifth term. But he has stopped short of stepping down and said he would stay in office until a new constitution is adopted, effectively extending his present term.
His move has failed to appease Algerians, who want veterans of the 1954-62 independence war against France who dominate the establishment to quit so a new generation of leaders can take over and begin to create jobs, fight corruption and introduce greater freedoms.
Protest numbers have grown dramatically after prayers on the three previous Fridays during the series of demonstrations that kicked off on Feb 22.
“We stay here until the whole system goes,” said Mahmoud Timar, a 37-year old teacher.
Leaders have emerged from the protest movement, offering an alternative to Bouteflika’s political roadmap to what he says will be a new Algeria. But they have not yet built up enough momentum to force him to quit or make more concessions.
The military, which wields enormous power from behind the scenes, has remained on the sidelines, and is seen as unlikely to intervene as long as the protests remain peaceful.


Egypt votes on extending El-Sisi’s rule, country awaits result

Updated 20 April 2019
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Egypt votes on extending El-Sisi’s rule, country awaits result

  • El-Sisi cast his ballot at a polling station in the eastern suburb of Heliopolis in the Egyptian capital
  • Supporters argue that El-Sisi has stabilized Egypt and needs more time to complete crucial economic reforms.

CAIRO: Egyptians were voting on Saturday in a referendum that aims to cement the rule of President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, the former coup leader who presents himself as a rock of stability in a turbulent region.

Voters were being asked to back amendments to the constitution to allow El-Sisi, 64, to run for another six-year term while boosting his control over the judiciary and giving the military even greater influence in political life.

At a polling station in Manyal, a Cairo suburb overlooking the Nile, Mohamed Abdel Salam, 45, told AFP he was voting enthusiastically in support of the changes.

"I don't care about the presidential terms," he said.

"Sisi could stay forever as long as he's doing his job... and he has already done a lot"

The three-day referendum bucks the trend of North Africa's renewed uprisings, in which mass pro-democracy protests this month swept away veteran presidents in Algeria and Sudan.

Sisi himself was among the first to vote when polls opened, casting his ballot in the upmarket Cairo suburb of Heliopolis.

In Shubra, a working-class neighbourhood of the capital, dozens of voters, mostly women carrying their children, queued outside a polling station in the local high school.

In Cairo, troops and police were deployed in numbers although the interior ministry declined to give any nationwide figures.

Egypt is still battling a hardened Islamic insurgency based in the Sinai Peninsula that has seen attacks in Cairo and other cities.

Sisi has argued that he needs longer to complete the job of restoring security and stability after the turmoil that followed the overthrow of veteran autocrat Hosni Mubarak in the Arab Spring of 2011.

Out on the streets, Sisi's supporters waved flags bearing their campaign motto: "Do the Right" thing, as they pressed passers-by to turn out and vote 'Yes'.

The Egyptian leader won his first term as president in 2014, a year after he led the army in overthrowing elected Islamist president Mohamed Morsi following mass protests against his single turbulent year in power.

Standing virtually unopposed after the disqualification or withdrawal of all realistic challengers, he was re-elected in March 2018 with more than 97 percent.

Both elections drew heavy criticism from human rights groups as they were accompanied by swingeing crackdowns on dissent -- both Islamist and secular.

Human Rights Watch also took issue with the referendum on extending Sisi's rule, saying the "constitutional amendments" would "entrench repression".

In a statement Saturday, the New York-based watchdog criticised the "grossly unfree, rights-abusive environment" of the vote.

For the past few weeks, Egypt's streets have been awash with banners and billboards urging citizens to vote for Sisi, while popular folk singers have exhorted voters to go to the polls.

Pro-Sisi campaign volunteers handed out boxed meals at four different polling stations in Cairo to voters after they had cast their ballots, AFP reporters said.

A parliamentarian greeted voters and volunteers gave out vouchers for the meals in the Shubra district.

In Manyal, a DJ blared loud patriotic songs extolling the virtues of Egypt under Sisi's leadership, including a new song by iconic Lebanese diva Nancy Ajram dedicated to Egypt and called "Ragel ibn Ragel" (What a fine man).

But not everyone is upbeat about the changes.

Sporting casual attire, a voter in his mid-30s told AFP in Cairo: "We are all staff in the same company and we were instructed by management to go vote.

"I want to say 'No'... on extending the presidential terms and the amendments related to the judiciary," he said declining to give his name for fear of repercussions.

He pointed to his bosses nearby who were making sure employees were voting.

"Even if I say 'No', they (the authorities) are still going to do what they want in the end," he added despondently.

Earlier in the week, parliament overwhelmingly endorsed the consitutional changes, which also include the creation of a second parliamentary chamber and a quota ensuring at least 25 percent of lawmakers are women.

Think tank the Soufan Center said the main effect of the referendum would be to "solidify Sisi's grip on the Egyptian political regime" in a country that "has become even more autocratic than it was under Mubarak".