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Algerians demand more concessions in 9th week of mass protests

  • Published at 07:52 pm April 20th, 2019
Protesters shout as hundreds of thousands of demonstrators return to the streets to press demands for wholesale democratic change well beyond former president Abdelaziz Bouteflika's resignation, in Algiers, Algeria April 19, 2019 Reuters

Algerians first hit the streets in large numbers on February 22 after the octogenarian leader's announcement

Huge crowds of protesters filled central Algiers for a ninth weekly mass rally Friday, galvanized by the departure of long-time president Abdelaziz Bouteflika but vowing to keep up their demands for sweeping reforms. 

Algerians first hit the streets in large 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 Friday's crowds were pushing for still more as they clogged streets for several kilometres in the heart of the capital. 

Demonstrators outside the iconic main post office building chanted "The people want them all to leave!" and "Enough of this system!"

"Just because Belaiz has resigned that doesn't mean it's over," student Lyes Adimi, 24, told AFP. 

"What has the constitutional council ever done apart from validating the fraud of the system it belongs to?" 

State media and local journalists reported major demonstrations across the country, including in other key cities Oran, Constantine and Annaba. 

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.

Further resignations demanded

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.

Cries of "Bensalah resign" reverberated in Algiers Friday as the crowds looked to pressure the placeholder president. 

Belaiz's replacement, little-known senior judge and former prosecutor Kamel Feniche, is also seen as a regime loyalist.

Despite Bensalah calling a presidential election on July 4, Algerian demonstrations are demanding a broader overhaul of the political system.

Ailing Bouteflika saw his two-decade grip on power brought to an end after the army heeded the calls from the streets and pushed for his impeachment. 

Now the military has become the key player in determining how the next steps unfold. 

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."

He also vowed that the Algerian army would not turn its weapons on its people and would make sure that "no drop of Algerian blood is spilled".

The presidency announced that Bensalah had started meetings with "national figures" on consultations about the future, but they appear to fall far short of the demands of demonstrators.

Marginalised opposition parties - which have been sidelined by the mainly grassroots protest movement - have been invited for talks on Monday. 

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