Algeria celebrates 60 years of independence with a military parade

ALGIERS, Algeria (AP) — Algeria marked 60 years of independence from France on Tuesday with national ceremonies, the pardon of 14,000 prisoners and its first military parade in decades.

Opposition figures and pro-democracy activists called the elaborate celebrations an effort to distract from Algeria’s economic and political turmoil by glorifying the military, and called for the release of political prisoners.

The events mark the country’s official declaration of independence on July 5, 1962, after a brutal seven-year war that ended 132 years of colonial rule. The war, which Algerian officials say has killed an estimated 1.5 million people, remains a point of tension in relations between Algeria and France.

Russian-made warplanes whistled overhead, armored vehicles rolled through central Algiers, and warships were decked out in the city’s harbour. Algerian flags flew from buildings across the country and patriotic songs blared from loudspeakers.

“A glorious day for a new era” was the official slogan for the celebration, which includes concerts, sporting events, lectures and photo exhibits depicting the horrors of war.

Previous presidents have given up on organizing military parades, but President Abdelmadjid Tebboune revived the tradition for the anniversary, for the first time in 38 years.

The show of military force came amid rising tensions between Algeria and Morocco over the disputed Western Sahara region, and with a resurgent threat from Islamic extremists in the Sahel region on the southern edge of the ‘Algeria.

Tebboune began the ceremony by laying a wreath in front of a monument to the “martyrs of the revolution” and inaugurating a monument dedicated to foreigners who joined the struggle for Algerian independence. He then boarded a military vehicle and greeted the representatives of the Algerian armed forces, waving to the crowd who were chanting: “One, two, three, long live Algeria!”

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, the leader of Hamas and the presidents of Tunisia, Niger, Congo and Ethiopia took part in Tuesday’s anniversary events, standing on a platform erected in front of the Grand Mosque in Algiers.

In a speech, Tebboune stressed that “the Algerian army, heir to the National Liberation Army, constitutes the protective shield of Algeria”.

Opposition figures and those involved in the 2019 protests who helped topple Tebboune’s longtime predecessor, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, were not invited to the ceremonies.

The country’s oldest opposition party, the FFS, issued a statement saying that “60 years after independence, we see more disappointments than promises kept. We are faced with the same problems of political instability, economic fragility.

Journalist Karim Tabbou, active in the pro-democracy movement Hirak, said the freedoms of Algerians “are constantly under threat”. Tabbou has been arrested several times and is currently under judicial supervision.

“All the illusion shows, all the cosmetics cannot hide the reality of a country plagued by the corruption of a political system which considers that management by security alone is the only way to govern Algerians”, a- he declared on the independent radio station Radio M

The president on Monday signed executive orders announcing the pardon of thousands of prisoners, mostly those convicted of common crimes who suffer from serious illnesses or who are enrolled in exams aimed at improving their education.

It was not immediately clear whether political prisoners would be among those released.

More than 300 Hirak participants, journalists and political activists are currently being held in Algerian prisons, according to the National Committee for the Freedom of Detainees, a group of volunteer lawyers campaigning for their release.

The presidential communiqué announcing the pardons mentioned measures for the benefit of “young people prosecuted and detained for having committed acts of crowd and similar acts”. The state-run APS news agency quoted a presidential official as saying it included Hirak activists arrested during protests or for online posts seen as “threatening public order”.

The presidential statement also mentions a draft law being drafted that would allow the release of imprisoned political activists or journalists, following Tebboune’s outreach consultations in recent months with various political actors.

APS said the law would also affect some Algerian figures in exile and those imprisoned since the “dark decade” of the 1990s, when security forces fought an Islamic insurgency in a conflict that claimed hundreds of thousands of people. dead. Such a measure could include Islamist figures who fled Algeria or who are serving prison sentences for terrorist crimes committed in the 1990s.

Louisa Kanache, whose journalist husband Mohamed Mouloudj has been detained since September for undermining state security and spreading false information on Facebook, said she was excited by the president’s statement but does not know if her husband will be released .

“Even lawyers don’t know how to read the presidential statement,” she said. “I am torn between the hope of seeing the end of the tunnel and the worry.”