Algiers meeting of election boycott parties blocked

Dozens of police with dogs blocked all access roads to Martyrs Monument

ALGIERS - Police blocked a planned meeting in Algiers Wednesday of opposition party leaders urging a boycott of next month's presidential election, in which ailing incumbent Abdelaziz Bouteflika is expected to secure a fourth term.
The security forces cordoned off Martyrs Monument, the iconic landmark towering above the capital that commemorates the Algerian war of independence, where the party leaders had planned to gather, one of them, former premier Ahmed Benbitour, said.
Dozens of police with dogs blocked all access roads to the monument, the El Watan newspaper said on its website.
The parties last week announced their plan to coordinate a national boycott campaign seeking to delegitimise the April 17 election.
Those supporting the campaign include secular opposition party the Rally for Culture and Democracy (RCD), and Islamist parties the Front for Justice and Development (FJD), Ennahda, Jil el-Jadid and the Movement for the Society of Peace (MSP).
"In the end, we were able to meet near Martyrs Monument," Benbitour said, adding that a follow-up meeting had been fixed for March 21 at a different venue.
Since Bouteflika's decision to contest the election was announced by Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal last month, protests against the 77-year-old president standing for a fourth term have multiplied, with 40 demonstrators arrested last Thursday.
Dozens of opposition candidates have dropped out of the race, citing expectations of fraud.
Benbitou, who served as premier from 1999 to 2000, withdrew his own candidacy on March 3, the day Bouteflika confirmed that he would run again, saying the vote would be "piracy with legal backing."
The president, who was hospitalised for three months in Paris last year after suffering a mini stroke, was shown on state television sitting in an armchair, his voice barely audible, as he registered his candidacy for the election.