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Two days before election, Algeria jails two ex-prime ministers

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ALGIERS (Reuters) – An Algerian court jailed two former prime ministers for corruption on Tuesday, two days before a presidential election which protesters want cancelled.

Former Algerian Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia arrives at the official dinner at the Orsay Museum, as part of the commemoration ceremony for Armistice Day, 100 years after the end of the First World War, in Paris, France, November 10, 2018. Ian Langsdon/Pool via REUTERS

Ahmed Ouyahia, who was prime minister four times, received a 10-year jail sentence and Abdelmalek Sellal, who was twice premier, was jailed for 12 years. They denied all charges, including “misappropriation of public funds, abuse of power and granting undue privileges”.

The court in Algiers also handed 10-year prison terms to two former industry ministers, and sentences ranging from three to seven years to five prominent businessmen.

Many former senior officials have been in detention as the army seeks to quell mass protests that began in February demanding the prosecution of people involved in corruption and the removal of the ruling elite.

Tuesday’s sentences marked the second verdict since September, when a military court handed long prison terms to the once untouchable intelligence chief and youngest brother of the former president, Abdelaziz Bouteflika.

Bouteflika resigned in April under pressure from the protests which began in February. Demonstrators say Thursday’s election will not be fair because some of Bouteflika’s allies are still in power.

The army has said the vote will be fair and an election is the only way to get out of the crisis.

Tuesday’s verdict is linked to corruption in the car assembly business and “hidden financing” of Bouteflika’s campaign for a fifth five-year term in an election that was scrapped earlier this year.

Among the businessmen jailed was Ali Haddad, a former chief of Algeria’s largest business association, who was imprisoned for seven years. Former transport minister Abdelghani Zaalane was the only defendant acquitted.

All those on trial were allies of Bouteflika and denied the charges. Sellal’s son, Fares, a shareholder in a car assembly plant, was handed a three-year jail sentence.

The court also issued a 20-year prison sentence in absentia to former industry minister Abdesslam Bouchouareb, who is abroad. An international arrest warrant has been issued by the same court.

Reporting by Hamid Ould Ahmed, editing by Angus McDowall and Timothy Heritage

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