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More than a million take to Algiers streets for sixth week of protests

Algerian student protesters in Algiers, 26 March 2019
Algerian student protesters in Algiers, 26 March 2019 Ramzi Boudina/File Photo/Reuters

At least one million people have marched in Algiers for a sixth straight Friday to demand the removal of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, according to Algerian police. The huge protest comes after the military this week called for the ailing leader to be declared unfit for office.

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Some demonstrators called for Algeria's entire political elite to go, saying that while they were against Bouteflika they also rejected the army's intervention in civilian political life.

The army chief of staff, Lieutenant General Ahmed Gaed Salah, on Tuesday asked the constitutional council to rule whether the Bouteflika, who is 82 and has been largely out of the public eye since he had a stroke in 2013, is fit for office.

Long a faithful Bouteflika supporter, Gaid Salah said on television it was "imperative" to find a way out of the crisis "which responds to the legitimate demands" of the people in line with the constitution.

Some Algerians wonder whether the military is the institution to manage the radical political and economic overhaul being calling for. But whatever new system emerges, the army is signalling it wants to retain a decisive role.

Bouteflika allies deserting

Salah’s call received backing from the ruling FLN party and the main trade union as a solution to the country's political crisis. Though protesters see the proposal as a way for the political elite to keep hold on power and name a hand-picked president.

On Wednesday, Bouteflika's long-time coalition partner, the National Rally for Democracy (RND) of former Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia, also called for him to step down. The head of the powerful General Union of Algerian Workers (UGTA), Abdelmadjid Sidi Said, also welcomed the army chief's call.

Ali Haddad, a powerful businessman who has helped fund Bouteflika’s election campaigns, resigned Thursday as head of the influential FCE business forum.

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