Algeria: Army chief closes access to capital amid hundreds of arrests

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Ahmed Gaid-Salah and the Emirates

Ahmed Gaid Salah, the army’s chief, has demanded that Algiers be closed to Algerians who come from the other regions of the country. An act seen as an attempt to weaken the large pro-democracy protests.

Although the army’s chief claims to be seeking to abide by the constitution, this last instruction of closing the capital infringes upon the constitutional rights of Algerians. The Algerian constitution guarantees freedom of movement for all Algerians within the country. The instruction also infringes upon Article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, ratified by Algeria.

Increasingly denounced by Algerians, yesterday, the army chief instructed the gendarmerie to seize and fine vehicles that do not bare the capital Algiers’ number plates, effectively isolating the capital from the rest of the country. In a long speech, the army chief resorted once again to blaming the pro-democracy movement on a “foreign plot”, a diversion tactic regularly used by the regime.

Political analysts in the country argue that Ahmed Gaid Salah is seeking on one hand to intimidate the demonstrators by “kidnapping” key figures perceived as leaders of the movement and thus create a climate of fear, divide the pro-democracy revolution by opposing berbers to arabs, and push the demonstrators to resort to violence.

It should be recalled that Ahmed Gaid Salah, has called the election for the 12th of December, an election rejected by the majority of Algerians.

The peaceful nature of the demonstrations has left the higher military command, led by Ahmed Gaid Salah, short of answers. It is now using “dirty tactics”, as described by one analyst, to weaken the movement, including extrajudicial arrests carried out by the secret service police.

There are currently hundreds of demonstrators in custody, charged with less than convincing charges, ranging from “weakening the troops’ morale” to “undermining the state”. Vague charges denounced as bogus by NGOs, political opponents and the vast majority of Algerians alike.

Fodil Boumala, a political analyst critical of the regime, was arrested in the middle of last night by plain-clothed secret service police. His whereabouts remain unknown.

On Tuesday, the day for the student’s demonstrations, over 40 students were violently arrested, most are still in custody; A 22 years old female student was charged by an Algiers-based prosecutor yesterday on unspecified charges.

From hero to zero

Initially praised for the wide anti-corruption purge ordered by himself, Ahmed Gaid Salah is now increasingly contested; particularly, after going after his political enemies while leaving aside corrupt politicians and oligarchs close to him. His close allies remain unbothered by the judiciary and free to travel abroad. It has been suggested that Ahmed Gaid Salah’s friends were granted safe passage to France and the Emirates.

Growingly, Algerians are becoming very much critical of the army’s chief, yesterday’s instruction to close Algiers to non-residents saw him compared on social media to General Massu, an influencial French military figure during the colonial era. Prior to the country’s independence, the French would close Algiers to prevent the resistance from entering the capital.


Article last updated on 19/09/2019 at 13:59.

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