Thousands of protesters in Algeria return to the streets to demand reforms

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Courtesy: REUTERS

Tens 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 after six weeks of mass protests.

Protesters say they want a crackdown on corruption and cronyism. They also demand Abdelkader Bensalah, head of the upper house of parliament, resign as interim president as well as interim Prime Minister Noureddine Bedoui.

“We will not give up our demands,” said Mourad Hamini, standing outside his coffee shop, where thousands of protesters were waving Algerian flags.

“They must go. The Bs must go,” one banner read, referring to Bensalah, Bedoui, and Moad Bouchareb, head of the ruling party.

Tayib Belaiz, chairman of Algeria’s Constitutional Council and the fourth of the senior “B” officials, stepped down earlier this week.

Belaiz was one of three figures in the interim government whose removal has been demanded by pro-democracy protesters. They are seen as part of the discredited regime of Bouteflika, who resigned April 2 after six weeks of nationwide demonstrations calling for an end to his two-decade rule. The new council president is Kamel Feniche, a magistrate.

Bouteflika was the head of a largely elderly elite that has dominated the country since independence from France in 1962.

On Tuesday, army 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.

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