Algerian lawmakers have appointed a regime stalwart as the country’s first new president in two decades, to the dismay of protesters seeking sweeping change after the resignation of Abdelaziz Bouteflika.
The appointment of Abdelkader Bensalah, the speaker of the upper house, as interim president follows constitutional rules but goes against the demands of demonstrators, who are pushing for him and other veteran politicians to stand down.
I want to work towards fulfilling the interests of the people,” Bensalah, a trusted ally of Bouteflika, told parliament on taking up the 90-day interim presidency. “It’s a great responsibility that the constitution demands of me.
Opposition parties refused to back the appointment and boycotted the session, as thousands of students protested in Algiers.
They haven’t heard us, we will continue to march!” protesters shouted, clutching handwritten placards and Algerian flags.
For the first time in seven weeks, police in the capital fired teargas to try to disperse the protesters, who were also hit with water cannon.
Peaceful, peaceful,” the protesters chanted, raising their arms in the air as they were surrounded by police.
The students echoed calls made last Friday, in the first weekly mass protest since Bouteflika announced his departure after losing the military’s support, for regime insiders be excluded from the political transition.
“Bensalah, Bouteflika, it’s the same thing!” said 20-year-old Roumaissa, holding an Algerian flag around her shoulders, during Tuesday’s protest.
Before Bensalah’s appointment, an editorial in the pro-government newspaper El Moudjahid suggested he should step aside from the presidential post. He was not tolerated by the citizen movement, which demands his immediate departure or by the opposition and various political groups in both houses of parliament, the newspaper said.
Three men in particular have drawn demonstrators’ ire: Bensalah, the head of the constitutional council, Tayeb Belaiz, and the prime minister, Noureddine Bedoui.
The protest movement is calling for a new transitional framework that is committed to deep reforms and organising free elections.
Human Rights Watch said Bouteflika’s departure was “at most a first step in ending autocratic rule. During any transitional phase, authorities should fully respect the rights of Algerians to speak, assemble and associate with one another.”
Facing endemic unemployment, young Algerians hope the protest movement can ultimately improve their prospects. “It must change. Today young people in Algeria are without a future,” said Yassine, a 21-year-old studying technology.
Although Bouteflika’s resignation last week was celebrated by demonstrators, they have remained firm in pushing for a wider overhaul of the political system.
Rabea, a physics teacher, said young people were the wealth of Algeria. It’s them who will make the future of the country. They must be listened to,” she said.