A year on Algerian protests continue


Thousands of Algerians marched on Friday, a year since the start of weekly protests calling for a complete overhaul of the ruling elite, an end to corruption and the army’s withdrawal from politics.

“We will not stop,” chanted a crowd in the centre of Algiers, despite a large police presence.

Over the past year protesters changed the face of Algeria’s power structure, causing the fall of a veteran president, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, and the arrest of dozens of leading figures including a once untouchable former intelligence chief.

While the new president released people detained in protests, set up a commission to amend the constitution and offered talks to the opposition, much of the old ruling elite remains in place.

The leaderless protest movement, known as “hirak”, is demanding more concessions, including release of more activists and departure of more senior figures from positions of power.

“Our hirak is tireless. We are ready to keep marching for months,” said Yazid Chabi, a 23-year-old student on the central Didouche Mourad street in Algiers.

Since December’s presidential election the number of protesters has fallen according to people attending the marches.

Hirak opposed the election, regarding as illegitimate any vote while the old ruling elite was in power and the military still in politics.

Abdelmadjid Tebboune, a former prime minister seen by protesters as part of the old elite, was elected. Turnout was only 40% according to official statistics.

Even without political unrest, his government now faces a difficult economic year with energy revenues dropping and hitting state finances hard.

Chabi has no expectation of finding work after he graduates. “Algerians have been getting only promises. Nothing has improved in recent years because corruption is still there,” he said.

Two former prime ministers, several ex-ministers and prominent businessmen were jailed after anti-graft investigations.

Prime Minister Abdelaziz Djerad said corruption and mismanagement resulted in a “delicate” economic situation for Algeria, an OPEC member country facing the negative impact of falling global crude oil prices.