By Lamine Chikhi and Hamid Ould Ahmed
ALGIERS (Reuters) – Algeria’s caretaker government faces the prospect of unrelenting popular demands for the removal of a sclerotic ruling elite and wholesale reforms after ailing 82-year-old President Abdelaziz Bouteflika quit in the face of mass protests.
“We want a president who understands what we want,” 25-year old Bouzid Abdoun, an engineer at state-owned energy concern Sonelgaz told Reuters on Wednesday. “We want to live here, not to migrate to Europe.”
Bouteflika resigned on Tuesday after a final nudge by the military following six weeks of street marches calling for democratic reforms after almost 60 years of monolithic rule by veterans of the 1954-62 independence war against France.
That leaves the major oil and natural has exporter extraordinarily in the hands of a caretaker government until elections in three months, but with no successor in sight.
However, protesters made quickly clear that they would accept no new president from “le pouvoir”, the popular nickname for the entrenched establishment of elderly veterans, business tycoons and National Liberation Front (FLN) party functionaries.
“What is important to us is that we do not accept the (caretaker) government,” Mustapha Bouchachi, a lawyer and protest leader, told Reuters just before Bouteflika stepped down. “Peaceful protests will continue.”
Algeria’s streets were quiet on Wednesday but the next test for the interim rulers looms on Friday, the day of the weekly mass marches since Feb. 22.
Bouteflika’s exit is seen only as a first gesture for young Algerians demanding jobs in a country where one in every four under the age of 30 is unemployed in a highly statist, undiversified economy dependent on oil and gas exports.
The outpouring of dissent is also over systemic cronyism that has seen Algeria effectively run by Bouteflika’s brothers, tycoons and ex-military intelligence officers since he suffered a stroke in 2013 and largely vanished from view, analysts say.
Earlier this week, in a sign of Bouteflika’s pending political demise, authorities seized the passports of a dozen politically connected businessmen under investigation for alleged corruption. One of them, Bouteflika loyalist Ali Haddad, has taken into custody, Ennahar TV reported on Wednesday.
“Bouteflika’s group captured the state, so the top priority for whoever replaces Bouteflika is really to re-connect with the millions of protesters who marched because they no longer trust the pouvoir,” said independent analyst Farid Ferrahi.
(Writing by Ulf Laessing; Editing by Mark Heinrich)