ALGIERS, ALGERIA (AP) — Algeria celebrated 60 years of independence from France on Tuesday with nationwide ceremonies, a 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 attention from Algeria’s economic and political troubles by glorifying the army, 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 said killed around 1.5 million people, remains a point of tension in relations between Algeria and France.
Russian-made warplanes whizzed overhead, armoured vehicles rolled through central Algiers, and warships were decked out in the city harbour. Algerian flags flew from buildings across the country, and patriotic songs rang out from loudspeakers.
“A day of glory for a new era” was the official slogan of the celebration, which includes concerts, sports events, lectures and photo exhibits retracing the horrors of the war.
Previous presidents abandoned holding military parades, but President Abdelmadjid Tebboune revived the tradition for this anniversary, for the first time in 38 years.
The military show of force took place amid growing tensions between Algeria and Morocco over the disputed Western Sahara region, and with a resurgent threat from extremists in the Sahel region on Algeria’s southern edge.
Tebboune began the ceremony by laying a wreath at a monument to “martyrs of the revolution”, and inaugurated a monument dedicated to foreigners who joined the fight for Algerian independence. He then mounted a military vehicle and greeted representatives of Algeria’s armed forces while waving to crowds who chanted: “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 of Algiers.
In a speech, Tebboune underlined that “the Algerian army, heir to the National Liberation Army, constitutes the protective shield of Algeria”. Opposition figures, and those involved in 2019 protests that helped overthrow Tebboune’s long-serving predecessor Abdelaziz Bouteflika, weren’t invited to the ceremonies.
The country’s oldest opposition party, FFS, issued a statement saying that, “60 years after independence, we are seeing more disappointments than fulfilled promises. We are facing the same problems of political instability, economic fragility.”