Tens of thousands of protesters have taken to the streets of the Algerian capital in defiance of a heavy security presence to demand the removal of the country’s powerful army chief.
Demonstrators on Friday gathered near Algiers’ iconic post office square, the epicentre of the months-old protests that forced longtime President Abdelaziz Bouteflika to resign in April after 20 years in power.
The protesters now wanted General Ahmed Gaid Salah, who emerged as an authority figure since Bouteflika’s removal, to step down.
“The people want the fall of Gaid Salah,” they chanted. “Take us all to prison, the people will not stop.”
“We will not stop marching. It is a unique opportunity to change this corrupt system,” Adlene Kada, a 23-year-old protester, said at the march.
Friday’s protest marked Algeria’s 31st consecutive week of rallies, but protesters faced a heavy deployment of security forces in the city centre and along its main avenues.
On Wednesday, Gaid Salah ordered all buses and cars bringing protesters into the capital stopped and seized, the latest in a series of measures aimed at quelling the weekly demonstrations.
The tougher line on protests came just days after interim president Abdelkader Bensalah announced a December 12 date for a presidential election to fill the vacuum left by Bouteflika’s departure.
The army chief has led the push for polls by the end of 2019, despite mass protests demanding political reforms and the removal of the former president’s loyalists – including Gaid Salah himself – before any vote.
“No vote with the gang!” protesters chanted as helicopters flew overhead, monitoring the protest. “We want a civilian state, not a military state.”
Authorities have used a dual approach to containing the protests in recent months, combining increasing pressure on the demonstrators with arrests of senior people in the ruling elite on corruption charges.
With the election now called, there seems to be little change in that strategy, with three prominent activists detained over the past week and the chief of the former ruling FLN party arrested on Thursday.