Algeria opposition party elects new hardline chief

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Algeria’s largest opposition party has elected a new hardline leader, in a sign it plans to harden its resistance to government policies, the Associated Press reported.

The Movement for Society of Peace elected Abderazak Mokri, who said he hopes to unite the country’s Islamist parties and bring about an Arab Spring in Algeria.

Algeria’s Islamist parties suffered a surprising defeat in elections last year - bucking the trend seen elsewhere in the Arab world.

Mokri said after his election on Saturday night that he would work to regain the trust of voters disappointed by the many years MSP supported the government in a ruling collation. The party left that coalition last year. He also said he thought President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who recently suffered a minor stroke, should not seek a fourth term next year.

Earlier on Sunday, Algerian police beat tens of young people with batons as they protested outside parliament about a lack of job security, and arrested several, an opposition MP told AFP.

“This morning, almost 200 young people gathered peacefully outside parliament to make MPs aware of their difficult situation. Police beat them with their batons and arrested seven of them,” said Ahmed Betatache, head of the opposition Socialist Forces Front (FFS).

“I was beaten by the policemen even though they know who I am,” he added.

Betatache had gone along with another MP from his party to talk to the protesters.

“It is ironic that at the very same time, a debate about press freedom was taking place in parliament,” he said.

The young protesters, who work on pre-employment contracts, were “demanding their integration to stop this slavery,” Betatache told AFP.

These unsecure jobs do not even pay the minimum wage of around 180 euros ($240) per month, and do not guarantee future work.

The FFS in a statement sent to AFP condemned “this savage repression” of the young demonstrators, as well as “the attack on the head of its parliamentary grouping, in violation of his political immunity”.

Algeria is plagued by high youth unemployment affecting 21.5 percent of those under 35, according to estimates from state agencies and the International Monetary Fund. Nationwide unemployment stands at 10 percent.

But those in work are also dissatisfied with their situation, and private and public sector health workers began a series of actions on Sunday to call for better working conditions.

The situation is worse in the south, an underdeveloped but hydrocarbons-rich region flooded by job seekers from the north.

Health workers have held sit-ins and demonstrations in Algiers’ Mustapha-Pacha hospital center, the most important in the country, and accused authorities of being deaf to their “legitimate demands”.

For several weeks, Algeria has been hit by strikes not only in the health sector, but also among education and transport workers.

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