Protesters hit Algerian capital to keep up pressure for change

Algerian protesters shout slogans during a demonstration in the capital Algiers on May 3, 2019. PHOTO: AFP

ALGIERS (AFP) - Algerians poured onto the streets for the 11th consecutive Friday (May 3) to push for sweeping change in the wake of veteran leader Abdelaziz Bouteflika's departure, after the army chief appeared to rebuff their demands.

Ailing Bouteflika resigned on April 2 in the face of mass protests and a call from the military for his impeachment.

But his exit after 20 years in power has failed to satisfy demonstrators who want to sweep away the remnants of his ruling elite and make sure the old guard cannot hand-pick a new president.

The weekly protests have become a key means of keeping up pressure on the regime as huge crowds have brought the centre of the capital Algiers and other key cities to a standstill.

"We will march until the entire group of Bouteflika's men leaves," said Hamid Benmouhoub, a 55-year-old tradesman who had travelled 350km to join the demonstration in the capital.

The key powerbroker now is military chief Ahmed Gaid Salah, a long-time Bouteflika loyalist who ended up withdrawing his support for his boss.

But the crowds filling the capital's central avenues on Friday chanted for Gaid Salah to "resign" and held placards reading "No to military rule".

Gaid Salah on Wednesday called for dialogue between protesters and the "institutions of the state" a day after digging in against demands that key leaders quit and be replaced by transitional bodies.

Demonstrators have pressed for the resignation of acting head of state Abdelkader Bensalah and Prime Minister Noureddine Bedoui, both stalwarts of Bouteflika's regime.

"We cannot hold a dialogue with the symbols of the old system," Abdelouahab Fersaoui, president of the Rally for Youth Action civil society group, told the TSA news site.

"We can't start a dialogue with Bensalah or Bedoui or anyone else who is responsible for the current state of the country."

Friday's protest is the last ahead of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, when days of fasting typically see a drop off in daytime activity.

But Algerians pledged to keep up their protests regardless.

"We will continue to march during Ramadan to demand a transition period with clean people (in charge). We will not let up," said Zakia Benabdrahmane, 56, who came from 40km outside the capital.

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