ALGIERS, Algeria: Algerian protesters rejected the interim leader named Tuesday to replace former President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, shouting “out with the system” as they called for the end of the political hierarchy that has led the country for two decades.
Tuesday’s student protest was timed to coincide with the parliamentary decision to name as interim president Abdelkader Bensalah, a key ally of Bouteflika and the leader of parliament’s upper chamber. Within the hour, police moved against the demonstrators, dousing them with tear gas and water cannons, and using batons to break up the crowd of thousands on a central avenue.
It was the seventh straight week of protests in the capital.
As called for by the Algerian Constitution, Bensalah was named as interim leader for a maximum of 90 days until a new election can be organized. He can’t run for the post himself. Members of the opposition abstained from Tuesday’s vote.
“I am required by national duty to take on this heavy responsibility of steering a transition that will allow the Algerian people to exercise its sovereignty,” Bensalah said.
Algeria’s powerful army chief, Gen. Ahmed Gaid Salah, was due to speak later Tuesday. It was Gaid Salah’s pulling of support for Bouteflika last week that tipped the balance. The military chief of staff’s response to Tuesday’s decision is paramount to the future of the gas-rich country.
Bensalah is one of three figures appointed by Bouteflika to key posts that protesters are demanding leave, dubbing them the “three Bs.” The others are Noureddine Bedoui, appointed last month as head of government, and the head of the Constitutional Council, Tayeb Belaiz.
Bensalah, 77, has cultivated a low-key profile despite holding numerous positions over the past quarter-century. With a career as a devoted public servant, he has no political weight, and his powers as transitional leader are reduced.
Bedoui has a starkly different profile. He was among the early promoters of a fifth mandate for the ailing Bouteflika — the trigger for the crisis. Mohamed Saidj, a political science professor, says that as interior minister Bedoui also was behind forbidding doctors and human rights organizations from protesting.
As for Belaiz, “everyone knows that he is Bouteflika’s man,” Saidj said in a recent interview.