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Algerians Stage Largest Rallies Yet to Protest against Bouteflika

Algerians Stage Largest Rallies Yet to Protest against Bouteflika

Friday, 15 March, 2019 - 18:45
Algerians demand Bouteflika quits in biggest protest yet. (Reuters)
Asharq Al-Awsat
Algerians staged on Friday the largest protests in Algiers yet against the rule of long-time President Abdelaziz Bouteflika.

Hundreds of thousands of protesters crammed streets and squares in the capital after noon prayers, many draped in Algeria’s red, green and white flag. Demonstrations also took place in Bejaia, Oran, Batna, Tizi Ouzou and other cities.

“Bouteflika and his men must go as soon as possible,” said student Yazid Ammari, 23.

Bouteflika on Monday reversed a decision to stand for another term after weeks of demonstrations against him but he stopped short of relinquishing office and said he would stay on until a new constitution is adopted.

Algerians quickly rejected his offer and demanded that the 82-year-old president hand over power to a young generation of leaders who can create jobs and stamp out corruption.

“Those who think we are tired are wrong. Our protests will not stop,” said doctor Madjid Benzida, 37, as police blocked streets leading to government offices and parliament.

Bouteflika has been losing allies in recent days since returning from medical treatment in Switzerland.

A senior FLN figure said in an interview on Thursday night the long-ruling president was “history now”.

The remarks by Hocine Kheldoun to Ennahar television were another setback for Bouteflika, who hoped to pacify Algerians by promising to take steps to change a political landscape that has been dominated by a ruling elite for decades.

Some parents had brought children to Friday’s demonstration.

“I want a better future,” said Mohamed Kemime, 10, draped in a national flag.

"You pretend to understand us, we will pretend to listen to you," read a banner held aloft by the mostly young demonstrators.

Many demonstrators, with their banners, criticized the stand of France on the political crisis in Algeria, its former colony, accusing Paris of siding with Bouteflika.

"France, 132 years is enough, stop the interference," read one banner, referring to the era of French rule before independence. "Macron, you are too small for today's Algeria."

French President Emmanuel Macron on Tuesday welcomed Bouteflika's announcement but urged Algerian authorities to organize a "reasonable" transition from his rule.

The protest movement has been led by students, in a country where half the population is under the age of 30 and youth unemployment has spurred anger against a government seen as out of touch.

Several demonstrators on Friday said they had travelled from the Kabylie area, 100 kilometers (60 miles) east of Algiers, and spent the previous night with friends in the capital to avoid roadblocks or bus stoppages.

One of Algeria’s most influential clerics appealed for patience.

“Let’s be optimistic, Algeria needs to overcome its crisis,” said Mohamed Abdelkader Haider from an Algiers mosque.

Bouteflika has rarely been seen in public since suffering a stroke in 2013. Protesters say he is no longer fit for office.

The new prime minister, Noureddine Bedoui, said on Thursday he would form a temporary government of technocrats and others to work toward political change, and he urged the opposition to join in a dialogue.

A former minister who is familiar with Bouteflika’s inner circle told Reuters that the president could not survive given the pressure building against him.

“Game over. Bouteflika has no choice but to quit now,” the former minister said on condition of anonymity.

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