Algeria deploys heavy security ahead of World Cup qualifier amid political uncertainty
ALGIERS, Algeria – Algeria is taking heavy security precautions ahead of Tuesday's World Cup qualifying match against Burkina Faso, mindful of the tensions in the country ahead of next year's presidential election.
The oil-rich North African nation announced that 9,000 security force members would be deployed to the city of Blida alone, where the game is being held. Police will be mobilized in other cities as well where jumbo screens will be showing the game.
It' the second and final round of the qualifier to see who goes to Brazil for the 2014 tournament next June. Burkina Faso won the first game at home 3-2.
A trip to the World Cup could bolster the government's campaign to sell 76-year-old President Abdelaziz Bouteflika to this soccer-mad nation for a fourth term in April. A loss, however, could stoke the public anger already simmering over the lack of jobs and services.
North Africa analyst Geoff Porter said the run-up to any Algerian presidential election is always tense as factions jockey for power.
"In this instance, there is an inclination to ascribe greater meaning to instances of tension because there is so much uncertainty and people are trying to divine what's going to happen," he said.
Bouteflika, Algeria's president since 1999, steered the country out of its civil war with the Islamists and brought a measure of stability that saw Algeria sidestep the Arab Spring turmoil of its neighbors. Algeria is also a U.S. ally in the fight against terrorism.
Still, there have been regular protests over the lack of jobs and housing and Bouteflika's grip on power was shaken by a stroke in April.
He returned pale and weak after three months recovery in France and now appears seated on television. Yet he still reshuffled government to pack it with his supporters and reduce the power of Algeria's intelligence service.
Drawing attention to the president's frailty has had swift repercussions.
On Sept. 15, blogger Abdelghani Aloui who posted a photo montage of Bouteflika and criticized his plans for a new term was arrested and charged with "defending terrorism."
Djamel Ghanem, the political cartoonist for the Voice of Oran regional newspaper, was placed under house arrest Nov. 12 and charged with "insulting the president" after drawing a political cartoon — which was never published — making fun of the president's health.
"It's absurd, I think it's the first time in the world annals of justice that a journalist has been condemned for a drawing that was never published," he told The Associated Press by phone.
On Saturday, the largest political party, the National Liberation Front, endorsed Bouteflika for a new term. Party chief Amar Saadani dismissed questions about the president's health, noting that the late U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt was elected to four terms and also used a wheelchair.