Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 July 2019

Algeria protests undiminished even after Abdelaziz Bouteflika's departure

Ten days after the country's long-term president stepped down, protesters say they want a more comprehensive change

Heavy police deployment and repeated volleys of water cannon and tear gas didn't deter masses of Algerians from packing the streets of the capital Friday. AP
Heavy police deployment and repeated volleys of water cannon and tear gas didn't deter masses of Algerians from packing the streets of the capital Friday. AP

Despite the fact that President Abdelaziz Bouteflika resigned nearly two weeks ago, hundreds of thousands of protesters are still taking to the streets of Algeria demanding a more comprehensive change in the North African nation’s leadership.

On Friday, mass rallies across the capital led to clashes with the police that left more than 200 arrested and over 80 officers injured.

Police in anti-riot gear fired tear gas to disperse a crowd of several hundred youths in the city centre, witnesses said, after an otherwise largely peaceful march joined by families throughout the day.

The police said that 180 people were arrested after clashes sparked by "infiltrators" among the demonstrators who injured 83 policemen.

Protestors clash with police officers during a demonstration against the country's leadership, in Algiers, Friday, April 12, 2019. Heavy police deployment and repeated volleys of water cannon and tear gas didn't deter masses of Algerians from packing the streets of the capital Friday, insisting that their revolution isn't over just because the president stepped down. (AP Photo/Mosa'ab Elshamy)
Protestors gather for a demonstration against the country's leadership. AP

The 82-year old Mr Bouteflika stepped down after 20 years in power 10 days ago, bowing to pressure from the army and weeks of demonstrations mainly by young people seeking change in the country.

But the protests, which began on February 22 and have been largely peaceful, have continued as many want the removal of an elite that has governed Algeria since independence from France in 1962 and the prosecution of people they see as corrupt.

Mr Bouteflika has been replaced by Abdelkader Bensalah, head of the upper house of parliament, as interim president for 90 days until a presidential election on July 4.

"No to Bensalah," the protesters chanted on Friday.

"We want the prosecution of all corrupt people" and "no to the gang", said banners held up by the protesters. Many waved Algeria's white, green and red crescent moon flag.

"We came out today to say that Bensalah's position is unconstitutional," one of the protesters, who gave his name as Nawal said.

"We do not deserve military rule. We deserve a democratic and free Algeria," he added.

Ali Badji, a 52-year-old grocer holding his son on his shoulders, said: "We are still sticking to our demands. We want a radical change."

Protestors carry a large flag and chant slogans during a demonstration against the country's leadership, in Algiers, Friday, April 12, 2019. Heavy police deployment and repeated volleys of water cannon and tear gas didn't deter masses of Algerians from packing the streets of the capital Friday, insisting that their revolution isn't over just because the president stepped down. (AP Photo/Mosa'ab Elshamy)
Protesters carry a large flag and chant slogans during a demonstration against the country's leadership. AP

State television said similar protests took places in most cities.

Police in a statement said they had arrested members of an unspecified "terrorist group" and also some foreigners who had planned to incite protesters to violence. The statement gave no details.

More than one in four people under the age of 30 are unemployed – one of the central grievances of protesters who want the economy liberalised and diversified to reduce its reliance on its oil and gas production.

On Wednesday, Algeria's army chief, Lt Gen Ahmed Gaed Salah, said he expected to see members of the ruling elite close to Bouteflika, who he called a "gang", prosecuted for corruption and said he would support a transition toward elections.

The army initially monitored the unrest from the sidelines. Then Lt Gen Salah intervened, declaring Mr Bouteflika – rarely seen in public since suffering a stroke in 2013 – unfit to rule.

Updated: April 13, 2019 04:53 PM

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