Algerians protest election plan, celebrate independence

Algerians are demonstrating against plans for upcoming elections they fear will be manipulated by a long-despised power structure

Waving Algerian and banned Berber flags, demonstrators urged each other to remain peaceful as police tried to push them off sidewalks or clear them out of a central square. An unusually large crowd turned out for the 37th such protest since their pro-democracy movement began in February and changed the political landscape of this gas-rich North African country .

Thousands came from other towns to join the protest in Algiers, some demonstrating peacefully in the streets overnight. In their homes, many residents banged on pots and pans to show support. The visitors then rested with friends or family and reconvened Friday morning to march through the capital.

They want an eventual national election and brand-new leadership, but don't want a vote organized by existing authorities, who they see as corrupt and out of touch.

"Dump the generals in the garbage!" shouted some demonstrators.

That was a reference to the powerful army chief Gen. Ahmed Gaid Salah, who helped push out Bouteflika but is part of the post-war political system that demonstrators want to change.

The problem is that protesters have no single vision of how best to change Algeria.

Some want a political transition period with a collective leadership involving none of the current political elite, and then a new constitution, and only after that a presidential election.

Algeria's acting leader Abdelkader Bensalah, speaking Thursday night on national television, dismissed opponents of the Dec. 12 election as a "minority" and said authorities would prosecute anyone who tries to disrupt the vote.

Authorities didn't release official figures for the size of Friday's crowd, though the war anniversary drew larger-than-usual numbers.

People repeatedly chanted "Independence! Independence!"

The war that began Nov. 1, 1954, over France's most treasured colony took six years and left scars on the two nations relations that remain to this day. Algeria gained independence on July 5, 1962.

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