Algeria protesters keep up pressure on regime

Police officers use a water cannon to disperse people protesting after parliament appointed upper house chairman Abdelkader Bensalah as interim president following the resignation of Abdelaziz Bouteflika, in Algiers, Algeria April 9, 2019. (Reuters)
Updated 19 April 2019
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Algeria protesters keep up pressure on regime

  • Protesters gathered in Algerian cities for the 9th straight Friday of demonstrations against the country's leadership
  • They are calling for the departure of 3 figures in the interim government

ALGIERS: Hundreds of thousands of demonstrators returned to Algeria’s streets on Friday to press demands for wholesale democratic change well beyond former president Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s resignation, chanting “we do what we want,” witnesses said.
Parliament named an interim president and a July 4 election date was set in a transition endorsed by Algeria’s powerful military. But Bouteflika’s April 2 exit failed to placate many Algerians who want to topple the entire elite that have dominated the country since independence from France in 1962.
Protesters gathered anew in city centers around Algeria demanding root-and-branch reforms — including political pluralism and crackdowns on corruption and cronyism, witnesses said. Numbers later surged after Friday prayers.
There was no official count but Reuters reporters at the scene estimated the number of demonstrators in the hundreds of thousands as on previous Fridays since the extraordinary mass dissent erupted on Feb. 22.
“We will not give up our demands,” said Mourad Hamini, standing outside his coffee shop, where thousands of protesters were waving Algerian flags.
The crowd later chanted: “This is our country and we do what we want!“
Protesters also called for Abdelkader Bensalah, head of the upper house of parliament, to quit as caretaker president and for Noureddine Bedoui to stand down as interim prime minister.
“They must go. The B’s must go,” one banner read, referring to Bensalah, Bedoui and Moad Bouchareb, head of the ruling National Liberation Front (FLN) party.
Tayib Belaiz, chairman of Algeria’s Constitutional Council and a fourth senior “B” official, resigned earlier this week.

A young man who was injured in protests in the Algerian capital last week died on Friday of injuries to the head, Ennahar TV said on Friday.
Ennahar said there were two accounts regarding the death of the 18-year-old. The first was that he was beaten during last Friday's protests and the second was that he fell from a truck on his way to the protests.
Police are investigating his death, Ennahar added.
On Tuesday, armed forces chief Lt. General Ahmed Gaed Salah said the military was considering all options to resolve the national political crisis and warned “time is running out.”
It was a hint the military was losing patience with the popular upheaval shaking Algeria, a major oil and natural-gas exporter and a key security partner for the West against extremist militants in north and west Africa.
Salah did not specify what measures the army could take but added: “We have no ambition but to protect our nation.”
The army has so far patiently monitored the mostly peaceful protests that at times swelled to hundreds of thousands of people. It remains the most powerful institution in Algeria, having swayed politics from the shadows for decades.
Protesters want a clean break with “le pouvoir” (the power) — the secretive establishment comprised of veterans of the war of independence against France, senior FLN figures and associated oligarchs — and sweeping reforms.
“The ninth Friday is a vote against the gang,” read a banner held up by protesters on Saturday.
“The system will go sooner or later,” said Mohamed Dali, who was selling sweets to protesters.
Another banner read: “The country is ours and the army is ours.”


Retired Lebanese soldiers in tense standoff with army during benefit cuts protest

Updated 19 min 5 sec ago
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Retired Lebanese soldiers in tense standoff with army during benefit cuts protest

  • Dressed in military uniforms, large numbers of veterans attempted to force their way through barricades set up to stop demonstrators reaching the city’s parliament building where a final vote on a controversial draft austerity budget was taking place
  • The meeting to vote on the 2019 draft budget came after a marathon three days of discussions

BEIRUT: Retired Lebanese soldiers on Friday came close to clashing with the country’s army when weeks of protests over planned benefit cuts reached boiling point in the capital Beirut.
Dressed in military uniforms, large numbers of veterans attempted to force their way through barricades set up to stop demonstrators reaching the city’s parliament building where a final vote on a controversial draft austerity budget was taking place.
A military source told Arab News that the Lebanese army leadership had decided to block access to Najma Square, in Beirut’s Central District, where Parliament members were sitting.
But former soldiers, joined by the parents of army martyrs and activists from the Sabaa and Communist parties, surrounded the building in nearby streets before attempting to push through barbed wire, concrete and metal barriers erected by the Lebanese army and the Internal Security Forces.
The protesters, waving Lebanese and army flags, got as far as the entrance to Maarad Street, on which Parliament is located, putting them in direct confrontation with the Lebanese troops.
Ten brigades of reinforcements were drafted in to help push back the veterans before protest leaders eased tensions by calling for a retreat to a nearby square to avoid any further clashes.
The meeting to vote on the 2019 draft budget came after a marathon three days of discussions. Before entering the parliamentary session, Lebanese Minister of Defense Elias Bou Saab said that “misleading the retired soldiers” would be “harmful to the image and demands of the protesters” and called on them to carry out “peaceful demonstrations.” He added that there had been mixed and confused messages regarding benefit cuts.
However, retired Brig. Gen. Georges Nader had vowed that protesters would not back off until the vote on their benefits was dropped.
Discussing the protests in Parliament, Samy Gemayel, president of the Phalange party, objected to the reduction in the army budget, to which Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri said: “This has been concluded on the bases of an understanding with the army and the military establishment.”
MP Paula Yacoubian said that “retired soldiers are trying to storm Parliament,” to which Berri said: “Those who want to storm Parliament have not yet been born.”
The row had centered on a controversial article concerning amendments to the country’s income tax act, and Lebanese Finance Minister Ali Hassan Khalil insisted on defending it. He said: “It does not cost the retired soldiers, for instance, more than 3,000 Lebanese pounds ($2) per month. This amount rises to 400,000 pounds for brigadiers.” He added: “Which country in the world gives a retiree 85 percent of his salary?”
After a meeting between the minister and Nader in Parliament, the retired brigadier general went out to reassure the veterans that cuts from their salaries in respect of medicine and income tax would be reduced. Less intense protests continued for more than three hours before Parliament approved the relevant article in the budget.
Meanwhile, Berri had started the Parliament session by reading a resignation submitted by Hezbollah MP Nawaf Musawi.