Algeria Riot Police Step Aside in Face of Protesters
By Staff, Agencies
Thousands of Algerians pushed through police tear gas in the capital Friday, to rally at the focal point of mass protests against the country's ruling elite.
Riot police for hours prevented demonstrators from marching on the iconic central post office, with officials citing security concerns, but they ultimately gave way under pressure from the crowds.
"Shame on you police officers," protesters shouted as tensions rose, with a few scuffles but no serious injuries reported.
Around a dozen people were helped by volunteers, the majority feeling faint due to the heat and fasting during the holy month of Ramadan.
Demonstrators clutching the Algerian flag and brandishing home-made signs far outnumbered riot police, wearing blue helmets and body armor.
While no official figure was given for Friday's rally, it appeared comparable to huge protests held since late February.
As well as the Algiers demonstration, rallies took place across the country including in the cities of Oran and Constantine, TSA news site reported.
Roadblocks had been put in place by security forces on some main roads leading to the capital, said Ali, a businessman who had traveled to Algiers from a town around 60 kilometers [40 miles] away.
Initially demonstrating against ailing president Abdelaziz Bouteflika seeking a fifth term, since his departure last month protesters have turned their attention to those still in power with ties to the former leader.
"Gaid Salah leave!" protesters shouted against the army chief, while others cried: "No military state."
A former Bouteflika loyalist and key powerbroker, Ahmed Gaid Salah has thrown his support behind presidential elections set for July 4.
But protesters – some clutching "no to the elections" placards – fear the polls could be used to keep longtime Bouteflika allies in power.
They are also calling for interim president Abdelkader Bensalah and Prime Minister Noureddine Bedoui to resign.
Said Salhi, vice president of the Algerian League for the Defense of Human Rights, accused those in power of lacking "any vision" and "playing for time."
"If the system keeps the elections for July 4, that exacerbates the tensions and escalates the crisis," he told TSA.