ALGIERS (Reuters) – Algeria released a prominent opposition activist on Thursday after freeing dozens of other people in recent days who were jailed during 10 months of mass protests.
A demonstrator holds a placard during an anti-government rally in Algiers, Algeria, on December 31, 2019. REUTERS/Ramzi Boudina
Lakhdar Bouregaa’s release after six months in detention comes at a critical moment in the struggle between the leaderless opposition protest movement and the state, after last month’s presidential election and the death last week of the powerful army chief.
The new president, Abdelmadjid Tebboune, has offered dialogue with the protesters, and political analysts in Algiers said the release of the detainees may be aimed at winning support among the opposition for talks.
“The release of Bouregaa today is a good signal to alleviate the tension,” analyst Farid Ferrahi said.
About 35 young protesters detained during the past few months have also been freed in recent days, lawyers and activists said.
Hundreds of thousands of protesters took to the streets in February, marching first daily and then weekly, and succeeding in April in forcing veteran president Abdelaziz Bouteflika to step down.
The state authorities, including the powerful military, have tried to quell the protesters by arresting many Bouteflika allies on corruption charges, while allowing the demonstrations to continue.
Tebboune was elected in a vote that the protest movement opposed as illegitimate, demanding that the entire ruling elite quit power before any election could take place. He took 58% of votes with a turnout of 40% according to official figures.
The election had been pushed by the army and its chief of staff, Ahmed Gaed Salah, who died suddenly last week of a heart attack. Tebboune swiftly replaced him with another general of the same generation, the land forces chief, Said Chengriha.
Although many protesters saw Gaed Salah and allied generals as the main obstacle in their path, many of them also credited him for not using violence against their demonstrations. Hundreds of thousands of people attended his funeral procession.
Bouregaa, a veteran of Algeria’s war of independence in the 1960s, was detained in June as the authorities began to arrest more of the protesters who had flooded the streets since February.
Reporting by Lamine Chikhi; Writing by Angus McDowall; Editing by Alison Williams