Algerians returned to the streets of Algiers Friday asking President Abdelaziz Bouteflika to step down. It was the fourth consecutive Friday protest by the people, against the 82 year-old ruler, who had spent 20 years in power.
With police standing back without intervening, men, women and children gathered Algiers’ landmark Grand Poste square in a festive atmosphere, in numbers that appeared to match the previous week’s demonstration when tens of thousands took to the streets across the country, an AFP correspondent said.
Friday’s rally is the first major test of whether Bouteflika has calmed public anger with his surprise announcement on Monday that he would not seek a fifth term but was cancelling an April presidential poll.
“You pretend to understand us, we will pretend to listen to you,” read a banner held aloft by the mostly young demonstrators.
Bouteflika had initially sparked joy among protesters when he said he would not stand again, but his move to cancel the vote prompted accusations of “tricks” and sparked a new round of demonstrations.
He has also named a new prime minister, replacing unpopular premier Ahmed Ouyahia with former interior minister Noureddine Bedoui, who on Thursday defended the postponement of the poll.
Bouteflika, who uses a wheelchair and has rarely appeared in public since suffering a stroke in 2013, has promised a “national conference” to carry out reforms.
The president said that new elections would be held “before the end of 2019”, suggesting he may stay in office for another year.
Many demonstrators, with their banners, criticised the stand of France on the political crisis in Algeria, its former colony, accusing Paris of siding with Bouteflika.
“France, 132 years is enough, stop the interference,” read one banner, referring to the era of French rule before independence. “Macron, you are too small for today’s Algeria.”
French President Emmanuel Macron on Tuesday welcomed Bouteflika’s announcement but urged Algerian authorities to organise a “reasonable” transition from his rule.
Algeria has largely avoided the turmoil unleashed by the Arab Spring uprisings that brought down rulers in neighbouring Tunisia and Libya.
But discontent, particularly among the young, turned to anger after the veteran leader announced on February 10 that he would seek another term.
Demonstrations have brought tens of thousands onto the streets for each of the last three Fridays, with smaller rallies taking place on other days.