Algeria releases protest detainees

Algerian war veteran Lakhdar Bouregaa gestures in a car upon his release in Algiers on January 2, 2020./AFP
Demonstrators chat slogans during a protest to demand that a presidential election last year be cancelled, in Algiers, Algeria November 29, 2019./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.

Lakhdar Bouregaa’s release after six months in custody 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.