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Algeria Army Chief Orders Clampdown on Protesters 

FILE - Demonstrators hold flags and banners during peaceful anti-government protests in Algiers, Algeria, May 3, 2019.

Algeria's army chief has ordered a clampdown on those who head into the capital for weekly demonstrations.

In a speech Wednesday at an army barracks in the south of the gas-rich nation, Gen. Ahmed Gaid Salah said members of the military, or gendarmes, should arrest protesters heading to Algiers for the demonstrations and seize their vehicles.

Gaid Salah's tough new stance came days after a Dec. 12 date was set for presidential elections, as he had demanded.

In his speech that was published by the Defense Ministry, Gaid Salah said that, for some people, coming into Algiers from other regions has become a ``pretext to justify dangerous behavior'' and a way to swell crowds.

Protest marches held in Algiers and other cities since Feb. 22 forced then-President Abdelaziz Bouteflika from office in April after two decades. Gaid Salah also called for the president, whose administration was mired in corruption, to stand down.

In the past, gendarmes, have often blocked roads into Algiers, without making arrests.

However, there recently have been arrests at the Friday protests, drawing condemnation from opposition politicians and human rights advocates. A former communications minister, Abdelaziz Rahabi, writing Tuesday on his Facebook page, called the arrests a ``dangerous abuse'' of power.

'The gang'

The army chief reiterated his claim that protesters were being manipulated by networks of ``the gang,'' a reference to those who held powerful positions under Bouteflika. The ex-president's brother and two former intelligence chiefs have been jailed and are awaiting trial, starting Monday, on charges of plotting against the state.

Gaid Salah, who has emerged as the authority figure amid a power vacuum, has consistently referred to a plot in his speeches, and suggested a foreign hand was involved. He has never elaborated on his accusation.

He said a better future built ``stone by stone'' lies ahead for the nation, an apparent reference to the December presidential vote.