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 we want!"

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 ours." (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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