ALGIERS, Algeria (AP) — An Algerian court has jailed 22 citizens detained during a protest march two days ago in a new sign that authorities may be trying to put the brakes on a pro-democracy movement demonstrating weekly for nearly seven months.
The TSA online media outlet reported the incarcerations on Sunday, quoting the group's lawyers, hours before Algeria's interim president was to address the nation. There was speculation that Abdelkader Bensalah will set a date for a much-contested presidential election.
The oil- and gas-rich North African nation's powerful army chief, Ahmed Gaid Salah, has pressed for a vote as soon as possible to replace Abdelaziz Bouteflika, pushed out in April after two decades in office by protesters with help from the army leader.
For weeks, Gaid Salah has stressed the need to return Africa's largest country to a constitutional framework with an elected president, and claimed that the protesters are being manipulated by enemies from within and without.
The interim leader's 90-day term expired long ago. Weeks ago he named the Sept. 15 date to announce elections, and following through would mean that the army, which has run the country at least from behind the scenes since independence, maintains its hold on political life.
Police, meanwhile, have increasingly cracked down on protesters. Karim Tabou, 51, a well-known figure in the movement, was jailed Friday on charges of undermining the military.
Numerous citizens have been jailed since the Feb. 22 start of the peaceful demonstrations aimed at ridding Algeria of the Bouteflika era, mired in corruption. Among those jailed are people waving regional flags and, shocking for many, a veteran of Algeria's independence war with France that ended in 1962.
Protesters now demand that "political prisoners" be set free and many chant for the army chief to leave.