ALGIERS - A big crowd of protesters marched through central Algiers on Wednesday to demand Thursday’s presidential election be cancelled, chanting that they would not vote in a poll they regard as a charade. They chanted “No election tomorrow” and held up banners reading “You have destroyed the country” as riot police stood blocking roads and a helicopter circled overhead. In one place, a column of police barged through the crowd. The election is shaping up to be a pivotal moment in the months-long struggle between the shadowy network of military, security and political leaders known as the “pouvoir”, who have ruled for decades, and a leaderless street protest movement. While the military, the dominant force in the pouvoir - “the power” - has cast the election as the only way to end the stalemate on the streets, the protesters reject it as a sham designed to maintain the status quo. They say no election can be free or fair while the old guard of rulers remain in power and the military stays involved in politics. No foreign observers are in Algeria to monitor the vote. Whoever is elected after Thursday’s first round and a potential run-off later this month will face a series of hard decisions, with declining energy revenue leading to a planned 9% cut in public spending next year.

US grounds Saudi pilots, halts military training

WASHINGTON - The Pentagon announced Tuesday it was halting operational training of all Saudi Arabian military personnel in the United States until further notice after a Saudi Air Force lieutenant shot and killed three people last week at a base in Florida. The decision will have far-reaching impacts on visiting Saudi personnel, including grounding more than 300 Saudi Arabian military aviation students as part of a “safety stand-down,” first reported by Reuters earlier on Tuesday. The Pentagon later confirmed the Reuters report about aviation students and added the move would also affect infantry personnel and all other Saudi training, other than classroom training. Such coursework, which includes English-language classes, will continue. A senior U.S. defence official, briefing Pentagon reporters on the decision, said the move was intended to allow for a broader review of security procedures that would eventually apply to all of some 5,000 international military students in the United States. Still, the safety standdown only applied to the some 850 visiting students from Saudi Arabia. The defence official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the shooting “suggested that there could be a particular improvement with that (nation’s) population.” “I don’t have any evidence to suggest that there is a larger ring or larger conspiracy,” the official said, when asked what was driving the safety-standdown. The FBI has said U.S. investigators believe Saudi Air Force Second Lieutenant Mohammed Saeed Alshamrani, 21, acted alone when he attacked a U.S. Navy base in Pensacola, Florida, on Friday, before he was fatally shot by a deputy sheriff.