Algerians rally for 11th week to remove elite from power

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Tens of thousands of Algerians rallied for an 11th straight week Friday to maintain pressure on the old guard in government to leave office a month after the country’s president of two decades was forced to resign.

Demonstrators waving or wrapped in Algeria’s national flag repeated “Everyone must go” and “Gang of thieves, you have ruined the country,” among the familiar chants from the weekly protests that started Feb. 22.

Crowds turned out in more than a dozen cities, according to online news site TSA Algeria.

The street protests were triggered by long-time President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s plan to seek a fifth term in an April election. He withdrew from the face and canceled the vote amid the continued protests.

Bouteflika, 82 and ailing, stepped down April 2 under pressure from Algeria’s powerful army chief who sided with the protesters.

The president of the Algerian Senate, Abdelkader Bensalah, took over as interim leader for 90 days under a constitutionally prescribed process. A presidential election has been rescheduled for July 4.

The political opposition and most protesters are opposing the new election date and the process for transferring power, which gives roles to Bensalah and other members of Bouteflika’s entourage.

They are demanding elections on their own terms and a new political system to replace the one that was adopted when Algeria gained independence from France in 1962.

Protesters have expressed mixed opinions about whether army chief Ahmed Gaid Salah fits their vision. He has pressed protesters to follow the constitutional process for installing a new government. Some Algerians support him.

“We have to help Gaid Salah. The political class should answer his call for dialogue to get out of this impasse,” Lakhdar Bouregaa, a veteran of the war for independence in his 80s, said.

Other citizens are skeptical Gaid Salah would help give Algeria a clean start or fear a military intervention to resolve the protracted power struggle.

“He’s working for the power structure,” protester Louisa Yani said. “He’s using his (past) role as a fighter to sell us the roadmap of those in power.”

It was unclear how Ramadan will affect the protests in coming weeks. Muslims abstain from food and drink from sunrise to sunset during Ramadan, slowing the pace of life and closing offices early. Some Algerians said they plan to demonstrate at night.q