'You must go' Algerians tell leaders at mass demonstration

For 11th week, protesters demand removal of remnants of former President Abdelaziz Bouteflika's ruling elite.

    'You must go' Algerians tell leaders at mass demonstration
    Bouteflika's exit after 20 years in power has failed to satisfy demonstrators [Toufik Doudou/AP]

    Tens of thousands of Algerians poured onto the streets for the 11th consecutive Friday demanding the departure of Algeria's ruling elite a month after the downfall of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika.

    The 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. 

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    Protesters have continued mass demonstrations every Friday, demanding other members of Bouteflika's inner circle also give way. 

    These include the interim president, Abdelkader Bensalah, who is serving for 90 days until an election on July 4, and Prime Minister Noureddine Bedoui, appointed by Bouteflika days before he stepped down. 

    "You must go" and "Thieves you have destroyed the country", read banners held up by protesters.

    "Peaceful, peaceful," others chanted while marching through central Algiers.

    The weekly protests have become a key means of keeping up the pressure on the government 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 350 kilometres to join the demonstration in the capital. 

    Pressure on military 

    The army remains the most powerful institution in Algeria, having swayed politics from the shadows for decades. It has so far patiently monitored the mostly peaceful protests that at times have swelled to hundreds of thousands of people. 

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    The key power broker 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". 

    Last week Gaid Salah said several big corruption cases would come to light in a crackdown on corruption.

    A number of figures from the ruling elite including the finance minister, former prime minister and several rich businessmen have come under investigation in recent weeks.

    Refusing dialogue

    On Wednesday, Gaid Salah 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.

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    "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 before 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 travelled 40 km to get to the capital to demonstrate. 


    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies