Arrests in Algeria ahead of weekly protests
ALGIERS - Algerian police arrested dozens of people on Friday at the Grand Post Office, a key rallying point for protesters in the capital Algiers, witnesses and journalists said.
An AFP journalist saw a woman arrested near the post office, where security fences were erected this week in an attempt to prevent demonstrators accessing the site.
Several hundred protesters gathered near the building on Friday, but they were kept at bay by a police cordon and a row of vehicles.
"Patrols criss-crossed the city and arrested anyone suspected of joining the rally," Said Salhi, vice-president of the Algerian League for the Defence of Human Rights, said on Twitter.
"It seems they (the authorities) want to ban the rally," he added.
The protest movement forced president Abdelaziz Bouteflika to step down on April 2, after two decades in power.
But rallies -- now into a fourteenth week -- have continued each Friday, to pressure army chief Ahmed Gaid Salah, interim President Abdelkader Bensalah and others to leave office.
"Tired of the generals!," "Gaid Salah resign!," protesters chanted Friday.
Mehenna Abdeslam, a protester and a university teacher, said he witnessed "the police systematically arrest anyone carrying a banner".
But "we will not stop" demonstrating, he added.
Local news site TSA reported police in Algiers made "massive arrests among the protesters". It also noted a heavy presence of female police officers, for the first time since the protests began.
A presidential election that was originally due to take place in April is scheduled for July 4, but the protest movement wants the poll scrapped, in the absence of new independent institutions to oversee voting.
Thousands of protesters also took to the streets in other Algerian cities on Friday to demand the postponement of the election and the removal of the ruling elite.
A political source meanwhile told Reuters the interim government was expected to extend the current transition period to allow time for preparations for the election.
The protests have continued through the Muslim holy month of Ramadan although numbers of the crowds are smaller than at the peak of the anti-Bouteflika protests.
They are calling for political reforms and the removal of all the clique of officials who have governed the North African nation since independence from France in 1962, including Bensalah, who replaced Bouteflika for 90 days until the election, and Prime Minister Noureddine Bedoui.
"No to the July 4 election," the protesters in Algiers chanted. Many held up banners that read: "Bensalah go, Bedoui go".
Similar protests broke out in Algeria's other main cities, including Annaba, Oran and Constantine.
The political source said the transition period, which is due to end a few days after the scheduled July 4 election, could be extended by at least three months.
"Time is runing out and organisers have not finished preparations for the vote," the source said.
Armed forces chief of staff Lieutenant General Ahmed Gaed Salah said last week that elections were the only way to get out of the crisis, but did not mention a date for the vote.
He reietrated calls for appeasement, mentioning the army's positive response to demonstrators' demands for the prosecution of people seen as corrupt.
Bouetflika's youngest brother Said and two former intelligence generals have been put in custody on charges of harming the army's authority and plotting against state authority.
Several businessmen have also been detained over allegations of involvement in corruption cases.