A thousand lawyers demonstrate for ‘change’ in Algeria

Published March 23, 2019, 11:46 PM

by Ellalyn De Vera & Richa Noriega

By Agence France-Presse

Around a thousand Algerian lawyers demonstrated Saturday in the capital calling for regime change in the North African country, where veteran President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s bid to stay in power has sparked weeks of protests.

The demonstration, coinciding with National Lawyer’s Day in Algeria, came a day after hundreds of thousands demonstrated in Algiers and across the country, for the fifth consecutive Friday, to keep the pressure on Bouteflika to quit.

Chanting “we’re fed up” with this government and calling on the political system to “go away”, the lawyers, wearing their black robes, waved Algerian flags and held up placards saying “no to a violation of the constitution”.

Bouteflika said on February 22 he would run for a fifth term in April 18 elections, despite concerns about his ability to rule.

The 82-year-old uses a wheelchair and has rarely appeared in public since suffering a stroke in 2013.

On March 11, after returning home from medical checkups in Switzerland, he made the surprise announcement that he was pulling out of the race — and also postponed the polls.

Protesters initially greeted the move with elation, but since then they have staged further mass demonstrations after realizing he intends to remain in office.

On Saturday, lawyers from across the country rallied in a square outside the main post office in Algiers which has become the emblematic gathering for demonstrations.

“We’re here to say ‘game over’,” said veteran attorney Noureddine Benissad, who is also a human rights defender.

“We are opposed to a transition carried out by (those in power). Change and transition must happen now,” he added.

Another lawyer, Nora Ghidouche, said the demonstrators “represent the people in the face of the law and the people are demanding change”.

The protesters broke through a police cordon to march in the city center before wrapping up the demonstration by midday without incident.

Newspapers were meanwhile hopeful on Saturday that change was on its way in Algeria.

“The ship is sinking,” and “its occupants and crew will abandon it in the coming weeks,” said El Watan newspaper, while the Liberte daily echoed it saying “the end is near”.

Authorities have pledged to hold a “national conference” to discuss reforms, followed by a referendum on a new constitution and eventually the election of a new president.