In this image from state TV broadcaster ENTV, Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, sitting in wheelchair, views the document as he presents his resignation to president of Constitutional Council Tayeb Belaiz, during a meeting Tuesday April 2, 2019. Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika stepped down on Tuesday after 20 years in office, following six weeks of massive nationwide public protests aimed at pushing him and his much-criticized inner circle from power in the gas-rich nation. (ENTV via AP)

Algerian protesters: President's exit was only first step

April 05, 2019 - 9:57 am

ALGIERS, Algeria (AP) — Algerians whose pro-democracy movement forced out longtime President Abdelaziz Bouteflika chanted, sang and celebrated their victory Friday — and demanded that other top figures leave too.

Tens of thousands of people massed in Algiers boulevards and marched toward the central post office, a symbol of a movement that has upended this energy-rich North African country in just seven weeks.

Security was higher than usual, with roadblocks preventing buses of protesters from entering the capital. One group said they walked 20 kilometers after their bus was stopped at a roadblock from the Kabylie region east of Algiers.

It is their seventh straight Friday of protests against a leadership seen as corrupt and repressive — but the first since Bouteflika resigned this week under pressure from protesters and the powerful army.

"It's a little victory, but others should leave too," said Salim Mehdi, a 40-year-old protester marching toward the post office. Mehdi still lives with his parents and hasn't married because he's never found a solid job — and one reason he's protesting is the limited economic opportunity for those outside the political elite.

However, he said he's mainly protesting to show his frustration at a "corrupt, rotten system" where the same faces have been in charge for too long.

The protesters now want the departure of the men who head Algeria's three branches of power: the prime minister, the upper house of parliament's chief and the president of the constitutional court.

"The people want them all to leave!" the protesters chanted Friday. Some brandished signs calling for the exit of "the three Bs" — Prime Minister Noureddine Bedoui, Constitutional Council President Tayeb Belaiz, and upper house of parliament president Abdelkader Bensalah.

With the president gone, Bensalah — a Bouteflika ally — is expected to take over as interim leader while Algeria organizes elections.

It's unclear what would happen if "the three Bs" were really to leave. The movement hasn't coalesced around a single alternative candidate or plan to govern Algeria.

Some of Friday's protesters suggested appointing a government of technocrats — not including any of the current political leadership — while new elections are organized.

The military chief of staff, Ahmed Gaid Salah, played a key role in pushing Bouteflika toward the door and is considered the guarantor of Algeria's security. But many protesters disagreed with his strategy and are mixed about what role he should play in the political transition.

The head of Algeria's intelligence service, Athmane Tartag, quietly submitted his resignation after Bouteflika's departure, a security official told The Associated Press. The official was not authorized to be publicly named. Algerian news reports said the intelligence service, DSS, will now report to the Defense Ministry instead of the president's office.

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Angela Charlton in Paris contributed.

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