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Tens of thousands of Algerians return to protest for ninth straight Friday

AFP | Algerian military veterans chant slogans at an an anti-government demonstration in Algiers on April 19, 2019.

Tens of thousands of demonstrators returned to Algeria's streets Friday to press demands for wholesale democratic change well beyond former president Abdelaziz Bouteflika's resignation after six weeks of mass protests.

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With police forces deployed across the city, protesters gathered at the main post office in Algiers -- the Grande Poste -- which has been a landmark during the weeks of protests that have already forced former president Abdelaziz Bouteflika to stand down.

By mid-afternoon, the boulevard joining the main post office to the Audin square was crammed with protesters.

Protesters shouted slogans including "Down with the System!" or "You ate the country, you bunch of thieves."

Earlier this week, interim President Abdelkader Bensalah appointed a new head of Algeria's Constitutional Council after the former chief, Tayeb Belaiz, quit under pressure from protesters.

Belaiz was one of three figures in the interim government whose removal has been demanded by pro-democracy protesters. They are seen as part of the discredited regime of Bouteflika, who resigned April 2 after six weeks of nationwide demonstrations calling for an end to his two-decade rule. The new council president is Kamel Feniche, a magistrate.

"They must go. The Bs must go," one banner read, referring to Bensalah, Bedoui, and Moad Bouchareb, head of the ruling party.

Belaiz's departure has not helped calm protesters. An Associated Press reporter covering Friday's demonstrations heard protesters criticising Lieutenant-General Ahmed Gaid Salah, the military's chief of staff.

Mustapha Bouchachi, a veteran lawyer and human rights activist, said, "The peaceful mobilisation should continue until the departure of all the system's faces. The movement should remain united to achieve the dream of a democratic Algeria with equal rights for all. "

‘Time is running out,’ warns military chief

On Tuesday, Lieutenant-General Salah said the military was considering all options to resolve the national political crisis and warned "time is running out".

It was a hint the military was losing patience with the popular upheaval shaking Algeria, a major oil and natural-gas exporter and a key security partner for the West against Islamist militants in north and west Africa.

Salah did not specify what measures the army could take but added: "We have no ambition but to protect our nation."

The army has so far patiently monitored the mostly peaceful protests that at times swelled to hundreds of thousands of people. It remains the most powerful institution in Algeria, having swayed politics from the shadows for decades.

‘A vote against the gang’

Protesters want a clean break with "le pouvoir", or the secretive establishment - veterans of the war of independence against France, the ruling National Liberation Front (FLN) party and associated oligarchs - and sweeping reforms.

"The ninth Friday is a vote against the gang," read a banner held up by protesters. "The system will go sooner or later," said Mohamed Dali, who was selling sweets to protesters.

Another banner read: "The country is ours and the army is ours."

A presidential election has been set for July 4 to choose the successor to Bouteflika.

(FRANCE 24 with AP and REUTERS)

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