Violence and protests in Algeria have forced the presidential campaign team of Abdelaziz Bouteflika to call off a rally, as tensions run high over the ailing veteran’s bid for a fourth term.
Protesters on Saturday stormed the venue for Bouteflika’s rally in the eastern Kabylie region, setting fire to his portrait, the AFP news agency reported.
Television channels broadcast footage showing a crowd of about 250 chanting “Bouteflika out” outside a cultural centre in Bejaia, where the rally was to be held.
Demonstrators also attacked the crew of Ennahar television, the channel’s chief Anis Rahman told AFP, adding that four journalists were injured.
The planned rally was scrapped by the former prime minister, Abdelmalek Sellal, who quit to become Bouteflika’s campaign manager.
“I called off the meeting for the sake of security, nothing more, nothing less,” Sellal said on Ennahar, a pro-Bouteflika channel. Sellal has done most of the campaigning for Bouteflika, who is too frail after suffering a stroke last year.
Bouteflika’s campaign team blamed “fascists” from the boycott movement Barakat, which was formed to oppose Bouteflika, and said they were assisted by the Movement for the Autonomy of Kabylie.
“The aggressors brandished signs with messages against the election and used projectiles to attack citizens, and wounded policemen and journalists, one of whom suffered a broken arm,” it added.
Rival cheered by thousands
In contrast, Bouteflika’s main rival, Ali Benflis, was cheered by thousands of supporters at a rally in his southern hometown of Batna.
Earlier in the day, his convoy was repeatedly stopped by supporters on the main road from Biskra, 100km away.
“Fraud is my principal adversary,” Benflis, who was beaten in the 2004 election by Bouteflika, told AFP in Biskra.
“It must be remembered that in 2004 fraud was victorious and democracy was the loser,” said Benflis.
But he said he would fight any attempt at fraud this time “with 60,000 observers” to keep an eye on the country’s 60,000 polling stations.