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Thousands take to streets in Algeria to demand new leadership

Big protest on Algeria's Independence Day highlights anger over country's post-Bouteflika political transition
Protesters shout slogans against Algerian military chief Ahmed Gaid Salah in Algiers (Reuters)

Tens of thousands of Algerians protested in the capital Algiers, reiterating their call for the country's ruling military and political elite to cede power following the downfall of longtime leader Abdelaziz Bouteflika.

The protest on Friday, which coincided with Algeria's Independence Day, marked the 20th consecutive week that Algerians have gathered to express their displeasure and demand a complete overhaul of the country's political system.

The protesters in Algiers shouted slogans against military chief Ahmed Gaid Salah, who emerged as a leader after Bouteflika's resignation in early April, following weeks of mass demonstrations against his attempt to run for a fifth term in office.

"Gaid Salah get out," some shouted on Friday, as reported by AFP. "Gaid Salah is with the traitors," others said.

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Salah, who had pushed for Bouteflika to be deposed under a seldom-used constitutional amendment before the ailing ex-president's overthrow, has repeatedly insisted that elections are the best way forward for Algeria.

A vote had been initially planned for this week, but was postponed by the authorities.

"The system is corrupt, fully corrupt. So we demand the removal of all those who were with Bouteflika's system," 23-year-old Slimani Hached, who works at a state firm in Algiers, told Reuters news agency.

Protesters again called for the removal of Algeria's interim president, Abdelkader Bensalah, and Prime Minister Nouredine Bedoui, both seen as close allies of Bouteflika.

In an address to the nation on Wednesday, Bensalah, whose interim term is set to end next week as mandated by the Algerian constitution, said that a national dialogue should be started to decide how to hold national elections, and promised that the current leadership and the country's military would not be involved in that dialogue.

"All components of the state, including the military, will not take part in this dialogue and will maintain the utmost neutrality for the duration of that [dialogue] process," Bensalah said.

He specified that dialogue participants would be free to discuss and debate the conditions needed "to guarantee the credibility of the vote".

Bensalah's call for dialogue has been rejected by the protesters, however.

A protester, 28-year-old Linda Hamrouche, told AFP on Friday that the Algerian leaders were "reformulating the same proposals".

"Their only objective is to maintain the current system," she told the news agency. "So no dialogue under those conditions."

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