Algerian presidential candidates hold debate as protesters rally

Five candidates, all of whom are former senior officials went head to head in a televised debate just as tens of thousands of Algerians were leaving an earlier protest, one of their last weekly demonstrations before the presidential election.
One question during the presidential debate, the first in an Algerian election, was about the country’s political system and candidates tried to mollify the opposition.
One candidate, Abdelaziz Belaid, said he would hold a referendum to change the constitution and another, Abdelmadjid Tebboune, said he would grant all the freedoms sought by the protesters.
But protesters have rejected the election which they consider meaningless, and have continued protesting twice a week since February to demand that the shadowy ruling elite that has controlled Algeria since independence in 1962 quits power.
The government has since arrested several opposition figures and journalists, charging some with attacking army morale.
But has also sought to appease protester anger over corruption by arresting dozens of senior officials and former officials and businessmen, many of them associated with Bouteflika, and sentencing some to long prison terms.
The army, the major force within the Algerian state, sees the December 12 election of a new president as the only way to restore normality after nine months of demonstrations which in April ousted the veteran leader Abdelaziz Bouteflika.
The leaderless opposition movement casts the election as pointless if the ruling hierarchy, including the army, continues to wield power, and wants it put off until more top officials step aside and the military quits politics.
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