Hundreds of thousands back on Algeria's streets, demanding radical reform
(Adds detail on turnout, quote)
By Lamine Chikhi and Hamid Ould Ahmed
ALGIERS, April 19 (Reuters) - Hundreds of thousands of
demonstrators returned to Algeria's streets on Friday to press
demands for wholesale democratic change well beyond former
president Abdelaziz Bouteflika's resignation, chanting "we do
what we want", witnesses said.
Parliament named an interim president and a July 4 election
date was set in a transition endorsed by Algeria's powerful
military. But Bouteflika's April 2 exit failed to placate many
Algerians who want to topple the entire elite that have
dominated the country since independence from France in 1962.
Protesters gathered anew in city centres around Algeria
demanding root-and-branch reforms - including political
pluralism and crackdowns on corruption and cronyism, witnesses
said. Numbers later surged after Friday prayers.
There was no official count but Reuters reporters at the
scene estimated the number of demonstrators in the hundreds of
thousands as on previous Fridays since the extraordinary mass
dissent erupted on Feb. 22.
"We will not give up our demands," said Mourad Hamini,
standing outside his coffee shop, where thousands of protesters
were waving Algerian flags.
The crowd later chanted: "This is our country and we do what
Protesters also called for Abdelkader Bensalah, head of the
upper house of parliament, to quit as caretaker president and
for Noureddine Bedoui to stand down as interim prime minister.
"They must go. The B's must go," one banner read, referring
to Bensalah, Bedoui and Moad Bouchareb, head of the ruling
National Liberation Front (FLN) party.
Tayib Belaiz, chairman of Algeria's Constitutional Council
and a fourth senior "B" official, resigned earlier this week.
On Tuesday, armed forces chief Lieutenant-General Ahmed Gaed
Salah said the military was considering all options to resolve
the national political crisis and warned "time is running out".
It was a hint the military was losing patience with the
popular upheaval shaking Algeria, a major oil and natural-gas
exporter and a key security partner for the West against
Islamist militants in north and west Africa.
Salah did not specify what measures the army could take but
added: "We have no ambition but to protect our nation."
The army has so far patiently monitored the mostly peaceful
protests that at times swelled to hundreds of thousands of
people. It remains the most powerful institution in Algeria,
having swayed politics from the shadows for decades.
Protesters want a clean break with "le pouvoir" (the power)
- the secretive establishment comprised of veterans of the war
of independence against France, senior FLN figures and
associated oligarchs - and sweeping reforms.
"The ninth Friday is a vote against the gang," read a banner
held up by protesters on Saturday.
"The system will go sooner or later," said Mohamed Dali, who
was selling sweets to protesters.
Another banner read: "The country is ours and the army is
(Writing by Ulf Laessing
Editing by Mark Heinrich
First Published: 2019-04-19 13:08:05
Updated 2019-04-19 15:27:43
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