TUNIS, Tunisia, March 17 (UPI) -- Human Rights Watch said Monday it was concerned about the security situation in Algeria as the country prepares for April presidential elections.
The rights group said Algerian authorities have dispatched a large number of police to the capital Algiers and have arrested several protesters ahead of the April 17 contest. Longtime President Abdelaziz Bouteflika is seeking a fourth term in office and Human Rights Watch said most of those targeted by authorities were from opposition groups.
Eric Goldstein, deputy director of Middle East programs at the rights group said there's been an "open-ended, blanket ban" on demonstrations in Algeria since 2001.
"Is it any surprise that these latest victims of the crackdown on protest are those who peacefully oppose [Bouteflika's] election to a fourth five-year term?" he asked in a statement Monday from neighboring Tunisia.
Mustapha Benfodil, a spokesman for the opposition Barakat Movement, told Human Rights Watch he was roughed up by Algerian police during a recent protest.
Bouteflika took power in 1999. His tenure lasted through the end of civil war in 2002 and the uprisings known as the Arab Spring, which gripped much of the Middle East and North Africa in 2011-12.
The official Algeria Press Service reported more than 200 observers from the African Union would monitor the election process.