Tens of thousands of demonstrators returned to Algeria’s streets on Friday to press demands for wholesale democratic change well beyond former president Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s resignation after six weeks of mass protests, witnesses said.
Parliament named an interim president and a July 4 election date was set in a transition endorsed by the country’s powerful military. But Bouteflika’s April 2 exit failed to placate many Algerians who want to topple the entire, largely elderly elite that have dominated the country since independence from France in 1962.
Thousands of protesters gathered anew in city centers around Algeria demanding root-and-branch reforms - including political pluralism and crackdowns on corruption and cronyism, witnesses said, and more were expected after Friday prayers.
“We will not give up our demands,” said Mourad Hamini, standing outside his coffee shop, where thousands of protesters were waving Algerian flags.
Protesters also demanded Abdelkader Bensalah, head of the upper house of parliament, quit as interim president as well as interim Prime Minister Noureddine Bedoui.
“They must go. The Bs must go,” one banner read, referring to Bensalah, Bedoui, and Moad Bouchareb, head of the ruling party.
Tayib Belaiz, chairman of Algeria’s Constitutional Council and the fourth of the senior “B” officials, stepped down earlier this week.
On Tuesday, army 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 was losing patience with the popular upheaval shaking Algeria, a major oil and natural-gas exporter and a key security partner for the West against Islamist militants in north and west Africa.
Salah did not specify what measures the army could take but added: “We have no ambition but to protect our nation.”
The army has so far patiently monitored the mostly peaceful protests that at times swelled to hundreds of thousands of people. It remains the most powerful institution in Algeria, having swayed politics from the shadows for decades.
Protesters want a clean break with “le pouvoir”, or the secretive establishment - veterans of the war of independence against France, the ruling National Liberation Front (FLN) party 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, who was selling sweets to protesters.
Another banner read: “The country is ours and the army is ours.”