Algeria independence war veteran to stay in prison

Lakhdar Bouregaa, 86, revered as a veteran of Algeria's independence war against France, was arrested at the end of June for "insulting a state body".

ALGIERS - Algeria's judiciary has refused to provisionally release a well-known independence war veteran detained for allegedly insulting the army, his lawyers said.

Lakhdar Bouregaa, 86, was arrested at the end of June for "insulting a state body" and "taking part in a scheme to demoralise the army with the aim of harming the nation's defence".

His supporters have put his detention down to his criticism of army chief Ahmed Gaid Salah, Algeria's de facto strongman since longtime president Abdelaziz Bouteflika's fall in early April.

Bouregaa was allegedly seized from his home by Algerian intelligence operatives for criticising Salah, who he accused of seeking to impose his preferred candidate in potential elections.

"The investigating magistrate... has rejected the request for provisional release made by the Lawyers Collective for Change and Dignity on behalf of Lakhdar Bouregaa", the lawyers' group said Wednesday on Facebook.

The request to release the octogenarian was based on "health reasons, backed up by a medical file", the lawyers said.

The charges -- which could carry a sentence of up to 10 years in jail -- have provoked widespread indignation in Algeria.

Bouregaa was a commander of the National Liberation Army (ALN) -- which fought the French colonial power -- and a founder in 1963 of the Front for Socialist Forces, one of Algeria's oldest opposition parties.

Ahead of his arrest, he had taken part in the demonstrations that have rocked Algeria since February -- initially against Bouteflika, and then the wider establishment, after the president was forced to resign.

Bouregaa is one of many alleged "prisoners of conscience" that the protest movement is demanding be freed. Dozens have been arrested for waving the flag of Algeria's Berber minority during protests, while army chief Salah has condemned "attempts by a small minority to bring symbols other than our national symbol into the public sphere".

Analysts say that the wave of arrests of dissenters can be seen as a weak attempt to fragment a protest movement that has been focused on removing key figures of the Bouteflika regime and overhauling the North African country's political system.

Salah on Tuesday slammed what he called demonstrators' "poisonous ideas", adding that detainees were "wrongly said to be held for their opinions".

Protesters use the phrase le pouvoir (the power) in reference to a network of high-profile figures that have long controlled Algeria for their own benefit by riding on the coattails of Bouteflika and his regime.

The protests now seek the resignation of interim president Abdelkader Bensalah, a former head of the upper house of parliament, and Prime Minister Noureddine Bedoui, for being among the Bouteflika-era ruling elite.