Protests keep up pressure on Algeria govt despite new president

Algiers: Algerian demonstrators kept up protests on Wednesday against the ruling elite despite a pledge from the interim head of state to hold “transparent” presidential elections following veteran leader Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s resignation.
Chants of “Go away Bensalah!” and “A free Algeria!” rang out from early morning from thousands of demonstrators gathered under police surveillance in the capital’s May 1 Square and near the Grand Post Office, epicentres of anti-regime rallies over the past seven weeks.
Lawmakers on Tuesday selected upper house speaker Abdelkader Bensalah as Algeria’s first new president in 20 years in line with constitutional rules, but the appointment failed to meet the demands of demonstrators pushing for the whole of Bouteflika’s entourage to stand down.
Bensalah, 77, a close ally of Bouteflika and key figure of his regime, pledged to organise a “transparent” presidential election within 90 days as laid out by the constitution, which bars him from running.
But students and magistrates on Wednesday called for demonstrators to keep up rallies in Tunis and cities across the North African country.
For the first time in the wave of demonstrations which have swept Algiers since mid-February, police fired tear gas and water cannons Tuesday to try to disperse a protest by students.
“What happened yesterday was a violation of our right to demonstrate,” said 22-year-old journalism student Asma. “We’ll carry on every day if needed until the last of the (ruling) clan is out.”
Since Bouteflika announced his resignation on April 2 after losing the military’s support, the demonstrators have urged that regime insiders be excluded from the political transition.
All eyes are now focused on the turnout on the streets on Friday, the traditional day of protests in Algeria, and whether the authorities will adopt a tougher line and step up security measures. For Mohamed Hennad, a political sciences professor at the University of Algiers, “the balance of forces will favour the street if it’s a large mobilisation on Friday” as in past weeks. But the appointment of Bensalah over the protestors’ opposition could signal “a change in the position of the authorities towards the demonstrators”, according to Oran newspaper.
“There is like a return to the political stick against those who from now on oppose the natural course of events,” it warned in an editorial.
— AFP