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Algeria's Bouteflika faces massive protest

March 29, 2019

With powerful allies deserting Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, protesters once again took to the streets to demand his ouster. The protesters also reject the military's proposal to remove the ailing leader.

Protests were staged in Algiers and various other cities
Image: Reuters/R. Boudina

Protesters crowded the streets of several Algerian cities for the sixth weekly demo against veteran president Abdelaziz Bouteflika and his allies on Friday. Huge numbers of demonstrators, including veterans of the country's 1990s civil war, congregated in front of the central post office in downtown Algiers.

"We're fed up with those in power," the demonstrators chanted. "We want a new government."

Strong police presence was noticeable in Algiers, with helicopters flying overhead.

'Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves'

The latest rally comes after several key allies publicly deserted 83-year-old Bouteflika. This week, the nation's top military commander, Ahmed Gaid Salah, called for the ailing president to be declared unfit to rule on health grounds and replaced him with the parliamentary chief in accordance with the constitution. The ruling FNL party and Algeria's main trade union backed the call.

Read more: Algeria's army chief, ailing president, and a political crisis

However, protesters on Friday rejected Salah's proposal as a way to keep the ruling elite in power even after Bouteflika's ouster.

"Bouteflika you go, take Gaid Salah with you," some of the demonstrators chanted, with one placard describing the ruling clique as "Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves."

'We want them to get out'

Speaking to DW, one of the protest leaders, Mustapha Bouchachi, said the country would not accept those close to Bouteflika to oversee the transition process.

"We want them to get out," the former lawmaker and human rights activist told DW. "The opposition will be able to suggest men or women who were never involved with the regime."

The transitional leadership should then call for new elections within a year, Bouchachi added.

 Abdelaziz Bouteflika casts his vote in a wheelchair Getty Images/AFP/R. Kramdi)
Bouteflika's health has been affected by a stroke he had in 2013Image: Getty Images/AFP/R. Kramdi

Elections canceled

Bouteflika, a veteran of Algeria's independence war against France, took power in 1999. He suffered a stroke in 2013 which left his health seriously impaired, and he has rarely been seen in public since.

The ongoing protests were triggered by his decision to run for a fifth term and continue his rule after his current mandate expires in April. Faced with the mass protests, he tried to compromise with the electorate by promising he would leave office early if elected, but the protesters rejected the idea. Bouteflika subsequently dropped his election bid, but also canceled the vote which was scheduled for April 18 and declared an unspecified transitional stage. Opposition leaders fear he would use the limbo to keep his grip on power.

dj/ng (dpa, Reuters)

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