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Algerians March Against President — and Political System

Police officers try to prevent protesters from advancing towards the government building during a protest to demand the removal of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika in Algiers, Algeria, March 29, 2019.

Algerians who took to the streets for their sixth straight Friday of protests aren't just angry at their ailing president — they want to bring down an entire political system seen as corrupt and out of touch.

Tens of thousands massed in the boulevards of Algiers on Friday, dominated by young people and their families. Police helicopters circled overhead and riot police vans lined sensitive neighborhoods, but the mood was largely festive.

It's the first protest since the Algerian army chief called earlier this week for a constitutional process to declare President Abdelaziz Bouteflika unfit for office. Other politicians and parties backed the idea as a solution to the gas-rich country's political crisis.

But protesters see the proposal as a way for the secretive political elite to keep their grip on power and name a hand-picked successor to Bouteflika, who has been largely out of the public eye since a 2013 stroke.

Anger at the constitutional process issue is central to Friday's protest. Many held signs calling for the departure of army chief Ahmed Gaid Salah, or referring to Article 102 of the constitution, which Salah proposed using to pave the way for Bouteflika's ouster.

One sign accused the political elite of being "Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves." Another read "Not Moscow, Not Paris, Not Washington — The Choice should be Algerian," in reference to concerns of foreign interference in the crisis.

A former French colony with close ties to France, Algeria was a powerful ally of Moscow in the Soviet era but in recent years has also become a key partner of the U.S. and Europe in fighting terrorism.

Frustration also targeted Bouteflika's brother, Said. A small group of protesters started shoving journalists from Ennahar Television, considered close to Said Bouteflika, shouting "Shame!," before other protesters separated them.

When the protests broke out last month, the demonstrators' anger was more focused on Bouteflika himself, and demands that he abandon his bid for a fifth term after 20 years in power.

Since then, Bouteflika has dropped his election bid, but also canceled the April 18 vote pending electoral reforms, raising fears he would cling to power indefinitely.

Bouteflika is credited with bringing peace to his nation after the bloody civil war of the 1990s, but some of his most powerful supporters have turned against him this week.

The protesters are notably angry at corruption. An Algerian media executive who was detained Thursday and released hours later said he was arrested because he publicly denounced political corruption.