Algerian army arrests five on suspicion of planning ‘attacks’ on protesters

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The Algerian army has arrested five suspects for planning “attacks” against anti-government demonstrations that have swept the North African country since February 22, the defense ministry said on Sunday.

The suspects “planned attacks against peaceful protests across different parts of the country,” it said in a statement, adding they were arrested in “anti-terrorist” raids last week in the Batna region southeast of the capital Algiers.

It identified the suspects as “terrorists”, a term Algerian authorities use to describe armed extremists who have been active in the country since the early 1990s.

Algeria has been rocked by months of protests since longtime leader Abdelaziz Bouteflika announced in February he would run for a fifth term.

He quit office but protesters have kept up the mass demonstrations, calling for an overhaul of the “system” and departure of key Bouteflika-era figures.

Interim president Abdelkader Bensalah has proposed a “neutral” national dialogue, without the involvement of the state or the military, to prepare for new presidential polls.

His proposals, backed by powerful army chief Ahmed Gaid Salah who has emerged as the country’s key powerbroker since Bouteflika’s departure, have failed to calm protesters.

Massive rallies continue to be held weekly on Fridays in Algiers and other key towns.

In recent weeks, police have detained dozens of demonstrators – releasing them at the end of the Friday rallies.

Observers say the detentions and other measures including heavy police deployments are meant to discourage protesters from taking to the streets.