FILE PHOTO: Algeria’s President Abdelaziz Bouteflika looks at journalists after casting his ballot during the parliamentary election in Algiers, Algeria, May 4, 2017. REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra/File Photo
ALGIERS (Reuters) – Hundreds of Algerians took to the streets of the capital on Friday to demand President Abdelaziz Bouteflika quit immediately and the numbers were expected to swell after Friday noon prayers.
Protesters gathered in the city center defying rain, carrying Algerian flags and pamphlets, gathering in the same spot where a wave of demonstrations erupted a month ago.
“Rain will not stop us from continuing our pressure,” said 23-year old Ahmed Khoudja.
Bouteflika, who has ruled for 20 years, bowed to the protesters last week by reversing plans to stand for a fifth term. But he has stopped short of stepping down and said he would stay in office until a new constitution is adopted, effectively extending his present term.
His move has failed to appease Algerians, who want veterans of the 1954-62 independence war against France who dominate the establishment to quit so a new generation of leaders can take over and begin to create jobs, fight corruption and introduce greater freedoms.
Protest numbers have grown dramatically after prayers on the three previous Fridays during the series of demonstrations that kicked off on Feb 22.
“We stay here until the whole system goes,” said Mahmoud Timar, a 37-year old teacher.
Leaders have emerged from the protest movement, offering an alternative to Bouteflika’s political roadmap to what he says will be a new Algeria. But they have not yet built up enough momentum to force him to quit or make more concessions.
The military, which wields enormous power from behind the scenes, has remained on the sidelines, and is seen as unlikely to intervene as long as the protests remain peaceful.
Reporting by Hamid Ould Ahmed; Writing by Ulf Laessing; Editing by Mark Heinrich