Algerian protesters hit the streets, seek more political reforms

Activists chalked up a second victory Tuesday as one of the three, constitutional council chief Tayeb Belaiz, followed Bouteflika to the exit
Algerian protesters chant slogans as they take part in an anti-government demonstration the capital Algiers on April 19, 2019. (Photo by RYAD KRAMDI / AFP)

Protesters in central Algiers on Friday staged their ninth weekly mass rally, galvanised by the departure of longtime president Abdelaziz Bouteflika but vowing to keep up their demands for sweeping reforms.

Algerians first hit the streets in huge numbers on February 22 after the octogenarian leader’s announcement that he would stand for a fifth term in presidential elections that had been scheduled for Thursday.

But his departure early this month spurred demonstrators to seek further changes, notably the resignation of three senior Bouteflika allies.

Activists chalked up a second victory Tuesday as one of the three, constitutional council chief Tayeb Belaiz, followed Bouteflika to the exit.

But student Lyes Adimi, 24, said more change was needed.

“Just because Belaiz has resigned that doesn’t mean it’s over. What has the constitutional council ever done apart from validating the fraud of the system it belongs to?”

Lyes Adimi

Protesters are demanding the resignation of the two remaining members of a group dubbed the “3B” — interim leader Abdelkader Bensalah and Prime Minister Noureddine Bedoui — saying regime stalwarts should be entirely excluded from any political transition.

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Belaiz’s replacement, little-known senior judge and former prosecutor Kamel Feniche, is also seen as a regime loyalist. On Friday, hundreds rallied outside the capital’s iconic main Post Office building, chanting: “The people want them all to leave!” and “Barakat (Enough of) this system!”

Despite Bensalah calling a presidential election on July 4, Algerian demonstrations are demanding a broader overhaul of the political system. The army “is convinced that the crisis can be managed through appeasement”, said Geneva-based political scientist Hasni Abidi. He said its strategy was one of “gradually minimising the scope of concessions”.

But army chief Ahmed Gaid Salah hinted this week that the military may soften its position, saying: “All options remain open… in order to find a solution to the crisis as soon as possible.”

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He also vowed that the Algerian army would not turn its weapons on its people, but would make sure that “no drop of Algerian blood is spilled”. Police forces, accused in past weeks of trying to quell the protest movement amid teargas-soaked clashes with demonstrators, were keeping a low profile Friday.

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