Algerian lawyers march to demand Bouteflika's departure

Hundreds of lawyers in Algeria marched Saturday in the country's capital wearing their black courtroom robes to demand the departure of ailing 82-year-old President Abdelaziz Bouteflika at the end of his term scheduled on April 28.

Similar demonstrations were held in the country's other big cities calling for an end to Bouteflika's 20-year reign of this gas-rich country.

Lawyers chanted anti-government slogans as they marched to a central plaza in Algiers, where they sang the national anthem. Police stood alert but stayed largely on the sidelines, and local residents applauded as the lawyers paraded past. The protesters, with shoulders wrapped in green-and-white Algerian flags, responded by raising their fists and changing "Long Live Algeria!"

The march comes a day after thousands of people demonstrated for the fifth straight Friday since nationwide anti-Bouteflika protests began on Feb. 22. Protests were also held in Paris.

Last week, Bouteflika indefinitely postponed April's national election and overhauled the government. While he abandoned his bid for a fifth term in office, critics fear that he intends to hold onto power indefinitely.

The protesting lawyers say canceling the election was unconstitutional. Banners at their demonstration targeted corruption in Algeria's power structure and "telephone call justice," referring to alleged interference in legal cases by Justice Minister Tayeb Louh, a Bouteflika ally.

"The people have made a choice, that this is the end of the gang in power," said Fareed Al-Wali, a member of a lawyer's union. "And after this, God willing, there will be a time of reckoning. And anyone who stole or embezzled a cent from the Algerian state budget, it will first be returned and then they will appear before Algerian justice."

Another protester, Ahmed Shawash, said "We are asking them (the regime) to leave as soon as possible, and leave the people to choose their future."

The movement has drawn protesters from a large section of Algerian society — families with babies, elderly people with canes, teachers, unemployed youth, imams. But it's notably driven via social networks by young people who feel Bouteflika's generation is out of touch with the country's current economic problems.


Lotfi Bouchouchi in Algiers contributed to this story.