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Former Algerian prime minister held in custody over corruption allegations

Ahmed Ouyahia most senior figure to be detained since mass protests brought down former government this year
Algerian Prime Minister Ouyahia awaits arrival of French President Macron at Houari Boumediene airport in Algiers (Reuters)

Algeria’s supreme court on Wednesday placed former prime minister Ahmed Ouyahia in custody over alleged corruption, state TV reported.

He became the most senior figure to be detained since mass protests broke out earlier this year demanding the removal of the ruling elite and the prosecution of people demonstrators see as corrupt.

Ouyahia has been prime minister four times, including three under the presidency of Abdelaziz Bouteflika who resigned on 2 April, after 20 years in power, following mass protests.

Appointed for the last time in 2017, he resigned in March after Bouteflika announced his intention not to run again for the presidency.

Hundreds of people celebrated the decision to jail Ouyahia outside a prison where prominent businessmen are also being held over corruption allegations, private television channels showed.

Ouyahia is under investigation over cases including "awarding illegal privileges", state TV said, without giving details.

He is the leader of Algeria's second largest party, the Democratic National Rally (RND).

His former transport minister, Abdelghani Zaalane, later also appeared before the court in connection with a corruption investigation. State TV gave no more details on his case.

Neither men's lawyers could be reached by phone for comment.

State television gave no details of what would happen next in the judicial processes involving Zaalane.

Bouteflika stepped down on 2 April under pressure from the army and protests that broke out on 2 February. Zaalane had been named campaign manager for Bouteflika for an 18 April presidential election, which was cancelled.

The army is now the most powerful institution in Algeria and its chief Ahmed Gaed Salah has urged the judiciary to investigate all people suspected of being involved in corruption.

Several senior figures including another former prime minister, Abdelmalek Sellal, and eight former ministers appeared last month in a court in Algiers on suspicion of corruption.

Bouteflika's youngest brother, Said, and two former intelligence chiefs have been placed in custody by a military judge for "harming the army's authority and plotting against state authority".

Several prominent businessmen, some of them close to Bouteflika, have been detained pending trial.

Protesters are now seeking the departure of interim President Abdelkader Bensalah and Prime Minister Noureddine Bedoui, both seen as part of the elite that has ruled the North African country since independence from France in 1962.

Ouyahia's RND supports the interim government, but is not part of it.

Authorities have postponed a presidential election previously planned for 4 July, citing a lack of candidates. No new date has been set for the vote.