ALGIERS — Hundreds of thousands of Algerians took to the streets Friday in one of the largest demonstrations the country has seen since its president resigned last week, demanding that the interim successor and other elites also step down.
But in a sign that the North African nation’s security forces could be losing patience with the ongoing demonstrations, clashes erupted between police and protesters, injuring several people, according to eyewitnesses. Riot police fired tear gas canisters at demonstrators in downtown Algiers to disperse them.
President Abdelaziz Bouteflika left office 10 days ago, ending two decades in power, after weeks of protests by Algerians from all walks of life convinced the powerful military to abandon their loyalty to the president and demand that he step down.
But that has not satisfied many Algerians. They have launched eight successive days of demonstrations calling for the removal of Bouteflika’s ruling cabal, known as “le pouvoir,” or the power, which has dominated the oil-rich nation since its independence from France in 1962. Many Algerians have denounced the elite as corrupt and want them to be prosecuted.
According to the country’s constitution, the head of the upper house of Parliament, Abdelkader Bensalah, was appointed interim president for 90 days until a presidential election can be organized for July 4. But many protesters reject Bensalah, a close ally of Bouteflika’s.
“No to Bensalah,” the crowds chanted Friday in downtown Algiers.
Friday’s protest was also the most hostile yet toward Algeria’s military leadership. Earlier this week, Gen. Ahmed Gaid Salah, the army’s chief of staff, said that he expected some of Bouteflika’s cabal to face prosecution and that he supported elections.
But many protesters remain suspicious of the army, believing it is seeking to exert full political control. Salah was instrumental in bringing down Bouteflika when he declared the president unfit for office. But now many fear Salah’s ambitions are greater, and they think that his support for Bensalah as the country’s interim leader is a sign that the army does not want to change the ruling order.
Many protesters chanted: “Go out, Gaed Salah!”
“People have no trust in the army,” said Omar Fekak, 24, a graduate student in politics who traveled from Blida, 20 miles west of the capital. “They believe it is working for maintaining the regime, the one it propped up and helped maintain since the country’s independence.”
On Friday, demonstrations unfolded in 26 cities across the nation. Similar slogans were shouted by protesters, especially, “Gaed Salah, go away, Bensalah, go away.”
By late Friday, the Algerian League of Human Rights denounced the security forces’ use of tear gas against peaceful demonstrators.
Sofiane Hmida, 40, brought his two children to the protest. But when the demonstration grew more tense, he took his children back home. Then he returned.
“It’s unfortunate that authorities are blind to this human hurricane walking and demonstrating peacefully for their future and that of their children,” Hmida said. “Shame on them, as they want to keep a regime that we don’t want to have around us anymore. But we won’t give up, that’s for sure.”