Algeria’s army chief a top target in 10th week of protests
ALGIERS, Algeria (AP) — The powerful chief of Algeria’s army became a top target of demonstrators who massed Friday for a 10th week of largely peaceful protests against their country’s ruling class.
As in previous weeks, marching protesters shouted “System, get out,” a reference to the entourage that surrounded and propped up now-former President Abdelaziz Bouteflika.
The weekly protests began Feb. 22 after Bouteflika formalized plans to seek a fifth term. Algeria’s leader of 20 years resigned April 2 under pressure from the determined protesters and the army chief, Ahmed Gaid Salah.
But on Friday, there were increasing chants of “The army isn’t the solution” and for Gaid Salah to “get out” after playing a central role in post-Bouteflika Algeria,
The protesters appeared divided over whether it was best to have another military strongman front and center while the North African country is in transition. The army has played a central role in Algeria since its independence from France in 1962.
Police blocked some roads into the capital of Algiers, where the crowds in the street looked less compact than in past weeks.
Friday’s protests came days after a corruption investigation picked up steam with the arrests of several major industrialists, Gaid Salah had encouraged judicial officials to take action to rout out official corruption, a chief grievance of the anti-government protesters.
Algiers protester Fatma Zohra expressed the sentiment of many who want the public to be in charge of an anti-corruption campaign and reject official actions that could be scapegoating or witch hunts.
“We did not ask you to put this or that person on trial,” Zohra said. “When we change the entire system, those in power will (prosecute) and judge them.”
Some speculated that Gaid Salah’s calls to accelerate corruption investigations were possibly intended to appease protesters ahead of a rescheduled presidential election set for July 4.
The army chief has said he wants the date and existing election laws respected. Protesters have argued for some kind of transition period before a new leader takes office.
Said Bouteflika, the ex-president’s brother and special counselor, also was a focus of protesters on Friday. The marchers called him the “leader of the gang.”
Three wealthy brothers detained for questioning this week as part of the corruption investigation are believed to be close to Said Bouteflika. Also being questioned is Issad Rebrab, chief of the private Cevital group. Rebrab, who is said to be Algeria’s wealthiest man, also is thought to have had a tense relationship with Bouteflika.
Sociologist Nacer Djabi said Algeria “is in a political impasse,” with opposition parties disagreeing on the way forward to a new system and style of leadership.
Hassan Khelifati, a member of the Algeria’s Forum of Entrepreneurs, urged the opposition and those in power to work together quickly to come up with “a political solution” before peaceful uncertainty gives way to damaging instability
“It’s urgent. There’s a looming economic crisis,” Khelifati said. “Everything is frozen. No economic actor dares to take a risk.”
The head of the Forum, Ali Haddad, was among the first swept up in the anti-corruption net. He was detained near the border with Tunisia at the end of March, before the president stepped down.
Elaine Ganley contributed from Paris.