More change demanded by Algerian protesters


Thousands of protesters demanding the departure of Algeria’s ruling elite rallied in the North African nation’s capital and police reported nearly 200 arrests after clashes that left more than 80 officers injured.

Police in anti-riot gear fired teargas to disperse a crowd of youths in the city centre, witnesses said, after a largely peaceful march joined by families.

Police arrested 180 people after clashes with “infiltrators” among demonstrators who injured 83 policemen, a police statement said.

President Abdelaziz Bouteflika stepped down after 20 years in power 10 days ago, bowing to pressure from the military and weeks of demonstrations mainly by young people seeking change.

The protests, which began on February 22 and were largely peaceful, continued as many want removal of an elite that has governed Algeria since independence from France in 1962 and the prosecution of people they see as corrupt.

Bouteflika was replaced by Abdelkader Bensalah, head of the upper house of parliament, as interim president for 90 days until a presidential election on July 4.

“No to Bensalah,” protesters chanted.

“We want prosecution of all corrupt people” and “no to the gang”, read banners held up by protesters. Many waved Algeria’s white, green and red crescent moon flag.

“We came out today to say Bensalah’s position is unconstitutional,” a protester, who gave his name as Nawal, told Reuters.

“We do not deserve military rule. We deserve a democratic and free Algeria,” he added.

Ali Badji, a 52-year-old grocer, said: “We are sticking to our demands. We want a radical change.”

State television said similar protests took places in most cities.

Police in a statement said they arrested members of an unspecified “terrorist group” and foreigners who planned to incite violence. The statement gave no details.

More than one in four people under the age of 30 are unemployed – a central grievance of protesters who want the economy liberalised and diversified to reduce its reliance on its oil and gas production.

Last week Algeria’s army chief, Lieutenant-General Ahmed Gaed Salah, said he expected to see members of the ruling elite close to Bouteflika, who he called a “gang”, prosecuted for corruption and said he would support a transition towards elections.

The army initially monitored unrest from the sidelines. Then Salah intervened, declaring Bouteflika – rarely seen in public since suffering a stroke in 2013 – unfit to rule.