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ALGIERS: Algerian protesters rejected the interim leader named on Tuesday to replace former President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, shouting “out with the system” as they demonstrated for the dismantling of the political hierarchy that has led Algeria for two decades.

The north African country’s influential military stayed silent on the appointment, saying only that it would work to ensure the “tranquillity” of the country.

A student protest had been timed to coincide with the Algerian Parliament’s decision to designate the upper chamber’s leader, Bouteflika ally Abdelkader Bensalah, as interim president.

Within an hour of the announcement, police moved in on the demonstrators, dousing them with pepper spray, shooting bursts from a water cannon and using batons to break up the crowd of thousands on a central avenue.

The tensions, which continued into the afternoon, were unusual for the Algerian pro-democracy movement.

Weeks of overwhelmingly peaceful protests forced Bouteflika to step down last week after 20 years in office. That is giving new hope to millions of young Algerians frustrated by corruption, unemployment and repression even as it has raised concerns about what’s next for this energy-rich country that’s a key partner in the international fight against terrorism.

As called for by the Algerian Constitution, Bensalah was appointed to an interim post for a maximum of 90 days until a new election can be organized. He can’t run for president himself when the election is held. Members of the opposition abstained from Tuesday’s vote.

“I am required by national duty to take on this heavy responsibility of steering a transition that will allow the Algerian people to exercise its sovereignty,” Bensalah said.

The Defence Ministry said in a statement on Tuesday that the army will work to ensure “the Algerian people’s legitimate right to enjoy total tranquillity for the present and the future.” The much-awaited but inconclusive statement suggests the army will wait to see if there are new mass protests on Friday before deciding whether to throw its support behind Bensalah or not. The statement didn’t specifically address Bensalah’s appointment.

Published in Dawn, April 10th, 2019