ALGIERS – Thousands of Algerians took to the streets on Tuesday to demand that the country’s ailing president step down.
Long-serving President Abdelaziz Bouteflika renounced his bid for a fifth term in office last week but also postponed the presidential elections scheduled for April 18, a move seen by protesters as an attempt to extend his rule.
“We want to bring down the regime,” chanted demonstrators, mostly students, teachers and health workers, as they gathered at the Grand Post Square in central Algiers, the capital.
But, unlike in the previous four weeks, security forces intervened to cut off the roads leading to the central May 1 Square, where doctors and nurses were demonstrating.
It was a decision that seems to be part of a new strategy on the part of the state to head off massive demonstrations that have been taking place every Friday throughout the country since Feb. 22.
“We are here as a popular movement to demand the end of this regime,” Ali Harfouche, a professor of physics at the University of Algiers said.
He added: “Since no changes have been made, we will continue taking over the streets peacefully, as long as necessary.”
An anonymous student at the same university said Bouteflika’s decisions and transition plan are a trick perpetrated by the state to hold on to power.
“We do not want this regime to stay. We have given our word, ‘no’ means ‘no’. They must leave,” the student said.
Meanwhile, more than a dozen Algerian trade unions rejected Monday calls by the country’s newly-appointed Prime Minister, Noureddine Bedoui, to take part in consultations to form a new government.
“The new government would be composed of national competences with or without political affiliation, significantly reflecting the demographic characteristics of Algerian society,” Algeria Press Service said Sunday.
However, the coordinator of the National Union of Secondary and Technical Education Teachers, Meziane Meriane, said his union refused the premier’s offer for “a lack of clarity.”
“We are in a difficult political situation and in order to avoid misunderstandings, transparency is more than necessary. It is a dialogue, it must be done in an organized and official framework,” Meriane told Algerian press Sunday.
On Friday, thousands of demonstrators opposing Bouteflika took to the streets for the fourth consecutive week.
Bouteflika, who has been treated at a Swiss hospital since Feb. 24, returned home on March 10 and has been in seclusion at Zeralda Presidential Palace on the outskirts of Algiers.
The president has rarely made public appearances since he suffered a stroke in 2013 but he managed to win his fourth term in office in the 2014 election.
The protests against his candidacy started among fans at soccer matches several months ago before spilling onto the streets of the capital and spreading to other big cities on Feb. 22.
As the protests kicked off, the president traveled for what state-run media called a routine checkup in a Switzerland hospital, where he stayed for weeks.
While he was hospitalized out of the country, Bouteflika’s campaign manager and the country’s transportation minister, Abdeghani Zalene, submitted the president’s name for election, a move later made null and void following the president’s announcement not to run.