Tens of thousands ofdemonstrators marched in the centre of Algiers on Friday in the firstsignificant test of the months-old protest movement since the government calledan election for December, a Reuters journalist said.
They were marching despite severalhigh-profile arrests of opposition activists over the past week and an order bypowerful army chief Lieutenant General Ahmed Gaed Salah on Wednesday for policeto seize vehicles bringing protesters to the capital.
"No vote with thegang!" protesters chanted, angered by interim president AbdelkaderBensalah's announcement on Sunday that an election would be held on December12.
Helicopters flew overhead,monitoring the protest.
Since protesters forced veteranpresident Abdelaziz Bouteflika to quit in April, the standoff between them andthe authorities has focused on new elections.
Gaed Salah has been pushing for avote for months as the only way out of the constitutional limbo created byBouteflika's departure and the postponement of an election that had been due inJuly.
The loose-knit oppositionmovement has rejected any vote, however, saying it could not be seen as free orfair while so many of the old guard remain in power.
"We want Gaed Salah to beremoved," some protesters chanted on Friday. "We want a civilianstate, not a military state."
"We will not stop marching.It is a unique opportunity to change this corrupt system," Adlene Kada, a23-year-old protester, said at the march.
The authorities have used a dualapproach to containing the protest movement in recent months, combiningincreasing pressure on the demonstrators with arrests of senior people in theruling elite on corruption charges.
With the election now called,there seems little change in that strategy, with three prominent activistsdetained over the past week and the chief of the former ruling FLN partyarrested on Thursday.