By Hamid Ould Ahmed
ALGIERS (Reuters) – Tens of thousands of protesters gathered in the Algerian capital for the 17th consecutive Friday, demanding the removal of the ruling elite and prosecution of former officials linked to former President Abdelaziz Bouteflika.
After 20 years in power, Bouteflika quit on April 2 under pressure from protesters and the army, but protests have continued.
The demonstrators are pushing for radical change and seeking the departure of senior figures, including politicians and businessmen, who have governed the North African country since independence from France in 1962.
There was no official count, but a Reuters correspondent estimated that the number of people protesting was higher than last Friday. It was still smaller than in the weeks before the Muslim holy month of Ramadan in May, however.
At this week’s rally they celebrated the arrest of several former officials and business people linked to Bouteflika on anti-graft charges, demanding more action.
“You have built prisons, you will be imprisoned there all,” read one banner held up by protesters marching through central Algiers, scene of mass dissent since February.
On Thursday, the supreme court remanded ex-prime minister Abdelmalek Sellal in custody over graft allegations.
State media also said police had arrested Mourad Eulmi, head of the private firm SOVAC, a partner of Germany’s Volkswagen AG, at a car assembly plant in the western province of Relizane in connection with “corruption cases”. It did not elaborate. Volkswagen declined to comment.
On Wednesday, the supreme court ordered the detention of another former prime minister, Ahmed Ouyahia, for alleged involvement in corruption.
Bouteflika’s youngest brother, Said, and two former intelligence chiefs have also been placed in custody by a military judge for “harming the army’s authority and plotting against state authority”.
Protesters rejected an offer from interim President Abdelkader Bensalah to hold a dialogue with all parties after authorities postponed a presidential election previously planned for July 4. No new date has been set for the vote.
“We need real dialogue”, read one protest banner. Protesters have rejected Bensalah as too close to Bouteflika.
Armed forces chief Lieutenant-General Ahmed Gaed Salah, who has been managing the transition, has called on parties and protesters to meet among themselves to discuss a way out of the crisis.
He also called for the prosecution of officials accused of being corrupt, after which the wave of arrests started.
(Writing by Ulf Laessing; Editing by Frances Kerry)