Algerian protesters rally despite arrests

Algiers (AFP) –


Huge numbers of Algerians protested Friday in the capital, keeping up their push for a political overhaul despite a spate of arrests ahead of the latest weekly rally.

Demonstrators brandished the Algerian flag that has been a mainstay of the protests, but some also carried the Berber colours despite a ban on the minority's flag imposed this week by army chief General Ahmed Gaid Salah.

"No to regionalism, we are all brothers," the protesters chanted in central Algiers.

Police earlier detained dozens of demonstrators, especially those carrying the Berber colours, from around the capital's main post office, the epicentre of demonstrations since they first broke out in February.

On previous Fridays in recent weeks, those detained have been released at the end of the day.

In the latest mass rally there were skirmishes between protesters and the police, who fired tear gas at demonstrators.

Algerians have been holding huge protests since ailing leader Abdelaziz Bouteflika announced plans to seek a fifth term in office.

The veteran leader resigned in April as the pressure against him to quit mounted from all sides, hours after close ally Gaid Salah demanded impeachment proceedings against him.

In a speech on Tuesday, Salah contended that those who oppose the army were "enemies of Algeria", resisting calls by the protest movement and an association of trade unions for a maximum one-year political transition overseen by new and independent interim institutions.

He warned that any political transition outside the existing constitutional order was tantamount to suppressing "all state institutions... and the destruction of the foundations" of the state.

Although a wave of anti-corruption investigations have been launched, demonstrators have kept up calls for the entire regime surrounding Bouteflika to quit.

"Gaid Salah is scared of the (proposed) transition because he would not be able to control everything", protester Salim Hassani said in Algiers.

Another demonstrator, Ahmed Meshdall, said "it is not in the interests of Algerians to destroy the institutions".

"A transition provides a path to elections without the mafia" currently in power, he added.

Two former prime ministers last week joined a long list of prominent politicians and businessmen who have been detained as part of the graft investigations.