Algeria arrests gang plotting protest ‘attacks’

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Algeria’s defense ministry said Sunday it had broken up a cell of separatist militants accused of “planning attacks” against pro-democracy rallies in the North African nation.

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The defense ministry said the “criminal cell” arrested in late March were members of the banned Movement for the Autonomy of Kabylie (MAK), a traditionally restive region in the northeast.

Its members are “involved in the planning of attacks and criminal acts during marches and popular rallies,” the defense ministry said in a statement, adding that “weapons and explosives were seized.”

On March 30, prosecutors had announced the arrest of five people suspected of planning “terrorist” actions in the Kabylie region during weekly Hirak demonstrations.

The Hirak protest movement was sparked in February 2019 over then-president Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s bid for a fifth term in office.

The ailing strongman was forced to step down weeks later, but the Hirak continued with demonstrations, demanding a sweeping overhaul of a ruling system in place since Algeria’s independence from France in 1962.

While it paused rallies for a year due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Hirak returned to the streets in February.

Ahead of elections in June, the military-dominated regime has been waging efforts on all fronts, particularly in the media, to discredit the movement.

Authorities say the Hirak movement is being infiltrated by extremists -- and the MAK -- who are trying to drag it towards violence.

The Hirak has called for a boycott of the polls.

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