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Head of Algeria's constitutional council resigns as students protest

Protesters want radical change that will introduce sweeping political reforms Algeria, an Opec oil producer and major supplier of natural gas to Europe.

FILE: Algerian students demonstrate in the centre of the capital Algiers on 12 March 2019, one day after President Abdelaziz Bouteflika announced his withdrawal from a bid to win another term in office and postponed an 18 April election, following weeks of protests against his candidacy. Picture: AFP

ALGIERS - The chairperson of Algeria’s Constitutional Council, Tayib Belaiz, quit his post on Tuesday, state news agency APS said, following calls for his resignation by pro-democracy protesters who say he is part of a ruling elite they want abolished.

President Abdelaziz Bouteflika stepped down on 2 April after weeks of mass protests for his 20-year rule to end. But his departure has failed to placate many Algerians who want to topple the old guard and its associates.

Belaiz submitted his resignation to Interim President Abdelkader Bensalah, APS reported, citing a statement from the council.

Meanwhile, thousands of demonstrators marched through the streets of Algiers and in cities across the country calling for political change in the eighth week of mass protests.

Belaiz’s departure could herald that of other senior political figures who protesters want to see removed. These include Bensalah, who was appointed interim president after Algeria’s army chief declared Bouteflika unfit for office and said the military would back a transition period leading to a presidential election on 4 July.

But protesters want radical change that will introduce sweeping political reforms Algeria, an Opec oil producer and major supplier of natural gas to Europe.

No person has emerged as a possible contender to lead the country. Protesters have identified figures such as lawyer and activist Mustapha Bouchachi as their leaders. But it is still not clear what role he could play in politics.

STUDENT PROTESTS

In Algiers, thousands of students streamed to the city centre on Tuesday calling for the resignation of Bensalah, witnesses said.

Shouting “No to Bensalah”, the students waved Algerian flags as hundreds of riot police stood by. The protests, which began on 22 February have been largely peaceful. Thousands of students marched in other cities too such as Bouira, Boumerdes and Tizi Ouzou, according to witnesses.

“Our pressure will continue until all demands are met,” said 25-year-old student Mourad Dimi.

Protesters want the removal of an elite that has governed Algeria since independence from France in 1962 and the prosecution of people they see as corrupt.

Last week, army chief, Lieutenant General Ahmed Gaed Salah, said he expected to see members of the ruling elite close to Bouteflika, who he called a “gang”, prosecuted for corruption and said he would support a transition toward elections.

The army initially monitored the unrest from the sidelines. Then Salah intervened, declaring Bouteflika - rarely seen in public since suffering a stroke in 2013 unfit to rule.
“The head of state and prime minister have no choice but to resign. We will not leave the streets before getting satisfactory responses,” said student Djamel Daadi.

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