Algerians hold fresh protests against president amid heavy security

Algiers - By Fatma Hamdi and Youcef Tazir, – Algerians rallied en masse in the capital Algiers amid heavy security on Friday, refusing to abandon their weeks-long protest against President Abdelaziz Bouteflika.


The demonstrators converged on the city's major squares, demanding an end to the rule of Bouteflika, who has been in power for 20 years.
Protesters chanted slogans including "Leave means leave" and "The people want to overthrow the regime."
Witnesses estimated that tens of thousands of protesters, including lawyers, judges and artists, poured into the capital. Thousands more took to the streets in other cities across Algeria, they said.
In the afternoon, police fired tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse a group of people near the Sacre Coeur cathedral, while other protesters started heading home, the witnesses said.
The National Security Directorate said in a statement that around 75 people were arrested during Friday's protests. Some carried out violent acts, including the vandalization of cars and public and private property.
Eleven policemen were slightly wounded during the protests, the directorate said. 
On Monday, the 82-year-old ailing leader bowed to two weeks of massive criticism and renounced his bid for a fifth term in office. But he also announced an unspecified transitional period - a step seen by protesters as an attempt to prolong his rule.
"The decisions taken by the authority do not cope with the demands on the street," young activist Faris Badhuche said in Algiers on Friday.
"The whole authority has to go. We also demand it respect the people's minds," he told dpa.
Law student Kenza Sulaimani agreed.
"The options for the authority to stay in power have become nil," Sulaimani said. "We don't want to see anyone belonging to the present regime."
Earlier on Friday, many demonstrators had to walk to the centre of Algiers after authorities barred dozens of buses carrying the protesters from heading to the area, witnesses said.
The buses had come from the capital's suburbs and neighbouring cities to participate in the protests against Bouteflika's decision to postpone indefinitely presidential polls, which were originally scheduled for April 18, witnesses added.
The metro stations were also closed.
Riot police were out in force in Algiers' major squares, the focal points for protesters, and around the presidential palace and government offices, the witnesses said.
Online activists called on demonstrators not to go to the presidential palace or the government offices to avoid potential clashes with security forces deployed there.
Elsewhere in Algeria, anti-Bouteflika protests were held on Friday in the province of Bouira, around 100 kilometres from the capital, and the eastern province of Tizi Ouzou, witnesses reported.
Dozens of workers at the state-owned energy company Sonatrach also protested in the area of Hassi Messaoud in the south-eastern province of Ouargla, Algerian newspaper Elkhabar reported online.
The protesters chanted: "Go means go!" according to the report.
Bouteflika's decision to delay the elections was also seen by observers as violating the constitution, which has no article that justifies staying longer in power. His current tenure ends on April 28.
Bouteflika suffered a stroke in 2013 and has since been rarely seen in public.
Last week, he returned to Algeria from a two-week medical trip to Switzerland

Friday, March 15th 2019

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