Top Algerian official quits as students keep up protest


In yet more upheaval for Algeria since the ousting of long-time leader Abdelaziz Bouteflika, the controversial head of the country's constitutional council Tayeb Belaiz quit on Tuesday bowing to weeks of anger from protesters.

Tayeb Belaiz's resignation was announced by state television and comes as the council prepares to oversee a presidential election. The 70-year-old is one of the "3B" top figures targeted by demonstrators in mass rallies which prompted the departure of Bouteflika this month.

Prime Minister Noureddine Bedoui and Abdelkader Bensalah – who served as upper house speaker until being appointed interim president after Bouteflika quit – have also faced calls to step down.

"We will continue what we have started," said university student Linda, one of thousands taking part in a protest Tuesday in central Algiers.

Police were massively deployed around the capital's post office building, the focal point of anti-government rallies which first erupted in February. "Free Algeria!" chanted protesters, who rallied outside the iconic building.

Also on Tuesday, army chief of staff General Ahmed Gaid Salah vowed the military would not turn its guns on demonstrators, while urging them to remain patient. Soldiers have "clear and unequivocal instructions to protect civilians, especially during the (protest) marches," he said in a speech.

The weapons of Algeria's army were "directed against the enemies of the nation and not against its people", the army chief said. Salah called for demonstrators to show "wisdom and patience" and said "all options remain open to overcome the difficulties and find a solution to the crisis as soon as possible".

Despite Bensalah calling a presidential election on 4 July, demonstrations have continued as Algerians call for a broader overhaul of the political system. The interim president has defended his appointment, but protesters are demanding regime stalwarts be entirely excluded from any political transition.

"We will continue to march until a transitional (authority) led by clean politicians is set up," medical student Mira Laifa told journalists. "The people want them all to leave," chanted the crowds, in reference to the interim authorities.

Demonstrators fear that the election will not be free and fair if they are held under the same judicial framework and institutions as those of the Bouteflika regime.

The interim president said his appointment was in line with constitutional rules and pledged to hold a transparent vote.

The constitutional council which Belaiz resigned from plays a key role in elections, vetting candidates and ensuring the regularity of the polls. The outgoing council chief was close to Bouteflika, who was shown handing his resignation letter to Belaiz in footage broadcast by state media last week.

The ailing president had on 10 February appointed his adviser Belaiz – who has also served as justice minister – to head the constitutional council for the second time. The same day Bouteflika announced he would seek a fifth term in polls initially scheduled for April, despite rarely being seen in public since a 2013 stroke.

His bid to cling to power sparked mass demonstrations which spread nationwide and ultimately prompted the president to resign on 2 April after two decades in power.

Despite Bouteflika's resignation, Algerians have kept up their demonstrations to call for a broad overhaul of the political system.    (AFP)

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