Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune Tuesday warned pro-democracy Hirak activists of “non-innocent activities” as authorities say the movement is being hijacked ahead of elections.
The president has called early elections for June 12 in an attempt to respond to the country’s political and socio-economic crisis, but Hirak supporters have denounced the vote as a “masquerade”.
Tebboune warned against “non-innocent activities” that “attempt to hinder the democratic process”, after meeting of the country’s top security council.
The Hirak protest movement was sparked in February 2019 over then-president Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s bid for a fifth term in office.
The ailing strongman was forced to step down weeks later, but the Hirak continued with demonstrations, demanding a sweeping overhaul of a ruling system in place since Algeria’s independence from France in 1962.
Since the movement’s second anniversary on February 22, thousands have continued to defy a ban on gatherings due to the coronavirus pandemic and taken to the streets for weekly protests, which were suspended for almost a year due to the health crisis.
Authorities say the Hirak movement is being infiltrated by Islamist activists who are trying to drag it towards violence.
The Algerian security body Tuesday examined “subversive acts” and “illegal movements close to terrorism, which exploit the weekly marches” of the Hirak, a statement read.
It specifically mentioned the banned Movement for the Autonomy of Kabylie (MAK), a traditionally restive region in the northeast, and the conservative Islamist-inspired Rachad movement, a party with no legal standing in Algeria.
Protesters chanted “free the detainees” and brandished posters of detained supporters of the largely leaderless and politically unstructured movement.