Thousands of people came out on the streets in Algeria on Friday to mark one year of the protest movement demanding the departure of the ailing president and sweeping reforms, including the army’s withdrawal from politics and a complete overhaul of the ruling elite, reported Reuters.
“We will not stop,” chanted a crowd in the centre of the capital Algiers, despite a large police presence.
The protesters started weekly demonstrations in February last year after the ruling National Liberation Front (FLN) announced that former President Abdelaziz Bouteflika would seek a fifth term in office. As the mass protests showed no signs of slowing down, Army chief Lieutenant General Ahmed Gaed Salah stepped in and urged Bouteflika to resign. Owing to tremendous pressure, the ailing president finally stepped down on April 2 after two decades in office.
But even after Bouteflika’s exit, the protesters continued with the weekly demonstrations demanding a total dismantling of the military-dominated system that has ruled Algeria since independence in 1962. The authorities even arrested a number of senior figures, including many Bouteflika allies and top businessmen, on corruption charges. The people who were detained included Bouteflika’s younger brother, Said, former security chief, Mohamed Mediene, and two former prime ministers, Ahmed Ouyahia and Abdelmalek Sellal.
Despite massive protests, Abdelmadjid Tebboune, a former prime minister seen by the protesters as part of the old elite, was elected as Algeria’s new president in December’s presidential election. According to official statistics, the voting turnout was only 40%.
Tebboune’s government has taken a number of steps including offering a dialogue to protesters, free many protest detainees and set up a commission to amend the constitution to give parliament and the judiciary more power.
But, on Friday, the protesters denounced what they called a “military state”, demanding that all political prisoners are released and power be handed over to a civilian-led transitional administration to make way for real democracy.