Algerians demand radical reform

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Thousands of demonstrators returned to Algeria’s streets to press demands for sweeping democratic change beyond former President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s resignation, chanting “we do what we want”, witnesses said.

The march was peaceful, like most demonstrations over the last two months.

An 18-year old injured during last week’s protest in Algiers, when clashes broke out, died of injuries to the head, Ennahar TV said. It said police were investigating the death, adding  he could have been beaten or fallen from a truck.

Parliament named an interim president and a July 4 election date was set in a transition endorsed by Algeria’s powerful military. Bouteflika’s exit on April 2 failed to satisfy many Algerians who want to topple the entire elite that has dominated the country since independence from France in 1962.

Protesters gathered anew in city centres around Algeria demanding root-and-branch reforms – including political pluralism and crackdowns on corruption and cronyism, witnesses said. Numbers surged after Friday prayers.

There was no official count but Reuters reporters estimated the number demonstrators in the thousands as on previous Fridays since the mass dissent started on February 22.

“We will not give up our demands,” said Mourad Hamini outside his coffee shop, protesters waved Algerian flags.

The crowd chanted: “This is our country and we do what we want!”

‘THEY MUST GO’

Protesters called for Abdelkader Bensalah, head of the upper house of parliament, to quit as caretaker president and for Noureddine Bedoui to stand down as interim prime minister.

“They must go. The B’s must go,” abanner read, referring to Bensalah, Bedoui and Moad Bouchareb, head of the ruling National Liberation Front (FLN) party.

Tayib Belaiz, chairman of Algeria’s Constitutional Council and a fourth senior “B” official, resigned last week.

On Tuesday, armed forces 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 is losing patience with the popular upheaval shaking Algeria, a major oil and natural-gas exporter and important security partner for the West against Islamist militants in north and west Africa.

Salah did not specify what measures the army could take saying: “We have no ambition but to protect our nation.”

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

Protesters want a clean break with “le pouvoir” (the power) – the secretive establishment comprised of veterans of the war of independence against France, senior FLN figures and associated oligarchs – and sweeping reforms.

“The ninth Friday is a vote against the gang,” read a banner held up by protesters.

“The system will go sooner or later,” said Mohamed Dali,selling sweets to protesters.

Another banner read: “The country is ours and the army is ours.”