Hundreds of thousands of Algerians yesterday took to the streets amid the continuous arrests of corruption officials and the election of opposition parliament speaker, Slimane Shenine.
The demonstrators – who went out to protest for the 21st Friday in a row – demanded that the state be led by a civilian government, despite statements made by army Chief of Staff Ahmed Gaid Salah, who labelled the demand as nothing but “false slogans with flagrant aims and intentions”.
The demonstrators also called for the overthrow of all symbolic figures associated with the regime of former President Abdelaziz Bouteflika in order to pave the way for a political solution to the crisis. This solution includes the holding of free and fair elections to elect a president representing the will of the people.
As on previous Fridays, the most prominent demonstrations took place near Central Post Square, Awdan Square and the Central University in the Algerian capital Algiers. Participants shouted slogans calling for the departure of symbolic figures of the former regime, as well as “civil not military state,” in response to Salah, who last Tuesday described those who shouted this slogan as “people with poisonous ideas”.
Demonstrators marched through Didouche Mourad Street, reaching a small space near the Central Post Square, where large numbers of security forces were stationed and arrested a number of demonstrators chanting slogans against the army and Salah.
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Before the demonstrations, the Algerian authorities deployed large units of police officers and riot forces near the Central Post Square, Awdan Square and the streets of Hassiba Ben Bouali and Didouche Mourad. Activists feared that this could provoke the demonstrators; thus opening the door to confrontation between the two sides.
This Friday the demonstrations had a celebratory atmosphere, especially after the Algerian national football team this week reached the semi-finals of the Africa Cup of Nations after winning against the Ivory Coast.
The demonstrators took advantage of this victory to stress that such victories will not make Algerians forget their quest for freedom and the establishment of a democratic state.
A few days ago, Interim President Abdelkader Bensalah, announced the formation of a committee comprised of independent national figures, without partisan affiliations, to be in charge of leading the dialogue with the opposition and representatives of the popular movement, with the aim of holding presidential elections as soon as possible and amending the electoral law.
Since the resignation of Bouteflika on 2 April under public pressure, demonstrators have been demanding the departure of old regime figures from power, including the transitional president Bensalah.
The Army Chief of Staff has rejected the demonstrators’ demands, especially those calling for an agreement on a transitional period and the formation of transitional institutions. He has been insisting on the implementation of the constitution, which provides for direct presidential elections.
However, the General – who became the de facto most powerful man in the country – did not clarify the possible alternative after the presidential elections, which were scheduled for 4 July, were cancelled due to the lack of candidates and the rejection by the protest movement.