Police step aside in face of protesters in Algiers

Updated May 18, 2019


Algiers: Protesters gather outside the main post office for a demonstration against the Algerian government on Friday.—AFP
Algiers: Protesters gather outside the main post office for a demonstration against the Algerian government on Friday.—AFP

ALGIERS: Thousands of Algerians pushed through police tear gas in the capital on Friday, to rally at the focal point of mass protests against the country’s ruling elite.

Riot police for hours prevented demonstrators from marching on the iconic central post office, with officials citing security concerns, but they ultimately gave way under pressure from the crowds.

“Shame on you police officers,” protesters shouted as tensions rose, with a few scuffles but no serious injuries reported.

Around a dozen people were helped by volunteers, the majority feeling faint due to the heat and fasting during Ramazan.

Demonstrators clutching the Algerian flag and brandishing home-made signs far outnumbered riot police, wearing blue helmets and body armour.

While no official figure was given for Friday’s rally, it appeared comparable to huge protests held since late February. As well as the Algiers demonstration, rallies took place across the country including in the cities of Oran and Constantine, TSA news site reported.

Roadblocks had been put in place by security forces on some main roads leading to the capital, said Ali, a businessman who had travelled to Algiers from a town around 60 kilometres (40 miles) away.

Initially demonstrating against ailing president Abdelaziz Bouteflika seeking a fifth term, since his departure last month protesters have turned their attention to those still in power with ties to the former leader.

“Gaid Salah leave!” protesters shouted against the army chief, while others cried: “No military state.” A former Bouteflika loyalist and key powerbroker, Ahmed Gaid Salah has thrown his support behind presidential elections set for July 4.

But protesters — some clutching “no to the elections” placards — fear the polls could be used to keep longtime Bouteflika allies in power.

They are also calling for interim president Abdelkader Bensalah and Prime Minister Noureddine Bedoui to resign.

Said Salhi, vice president of the Algerian League for the Defence of Human Rights, accused those in power of lacking “any vision” and “playing for time”.

“If the system keeps the elections for July 4, that exacerbates the tensions and escalates the crisis,” he told TSA.Algeria’s imminent presidential election looks likely to be postponed, a source said on Friday.

After two decades in power, President Abdelaziz Bouteflika quit last month under pressure from protesters and the army, but demonstrations have continued seeking political reforms and the removal of all officials belonging to the old guard. But a source familiar with the matter said the vote was to be delayed due to difficulties of organising the logistics in time and opposition on the street.

“There won’t be elections on July 4,” he said, asking not to be named.

Hundreds of protesters began gathering again on Friday, calling for the resignations of the interim president, Ab­­de­l­kader Bensalah, and Prime Minister Noureddine Bedoui, appointed by Bouteflika days before he stepped down.

“No to elections of shame. Remove Bensalah and Bedoui first,” read one banner held up in downtown Algiers.

The Constitutional Council, which is overseeing the transition, was expected to issue a statement on the election process shortly. The deadline for would-be presidential candidates to collect and submit 60,000 signatures is May 25.The source said the vote could be delayed until the end of the year, with names in the air to run the transition including conservative former minister Ahmed Taleb Ibrahimi and technocrat and former prime minister Ahmed Benbitour.

Published in Dawn, May 18th, 2019