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Algerian justice minister fired amid anti-graft investigations

Algerian justice minister fired amid anti-graft investigations
FILE PHOTO: Algerian upper house chairman Abdelkader Bensalah is pictured after being appointed as interim president by Algeria's parliament, following the resignation of Abdelaziz Bouteflika in Algiers, Algeria April 9, 2019. REUTERS/Ramzi Boudina -
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RAMZI BOUDINA(Reuters)
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ALGIERS (Reuters) – Algeria’s interim president fired the justice minister on Wednesday and named the Algiers public prosecutor to replace him, the presidency said, amid a series of corruption investigations involving allies of former President Abdelaziz Bouteflika.

Abdelkader Bensalah appointed Belkacem Zeghmati to replace Slimane Brahmi “after consultation with the prime minister”, the presidency said in a statement.

The judiciary has been conducting probes and several former senior officials, including ex-prime ministers Ahmed Ouyahia and Abdelmalek Sellal, have been placed in custody over charges including “dissipation of public funds”.

The investigations followed mass protests that erupted in the North African country on Feb. 22, with demonstrators calling for the removal of the ruling elite and the prosecution of people involved in corruption cases.

Bouteflika resigned under pressure on April 2, but the demonstrations continued as protesters sought the departure of the remaining symbols of the elite that has governed the country since independence from France in 1962.

The army is now the main player in Algeria’s politics, and its chief of staff, Lieutenant General Ahmed Gaed Salah has promised to help the judiciary and protect it from pressure.

The departing justice minister, Brahmi, had been in the job since March 31, when Bouteflika named a new government shortly before his resignation.

Protesters are now demanding the departure of Bensalah, a former head of the upper house of parliament, and Prime Minister Noureddine Bedoui, regarding them as part of the old guard.

Authorities have postponed a presidential election previously planned for July 4, citing a lack of candidates and have not set a new date for the vote. Bensalah last week named a panel to start talks with the opposition over the election.

(Reporting by Hamid Ould Ahmed; Editing by Frances Kerry)

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