April 2, 2019
By Lamine Chikhi and Hamid Ould Ahmed
ALGIERS (Reuters) – Hundreds of students marched in Algiers on Tuesday demanding the immediate resignation of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika and the replacement of Algeria’s political system, a day after the veteran ruler announced he would leave by the end of the month.
Leaders of a mass protest movement that has transformed the political landscape since it began on Feb 22. have not yet commented on Bouteflika’s Monday evening announcement that he will step down before his term expires on April 28.
But the peaceful march through central Algiers by students demanding a new generation of rulers suggested his statement had not reduced all pressure for reform built up by weeks of demonstrations seeking an end to his 20-year-old rule.
“We want a regime change” and “We don’t want Bouteflika or Said (his brother and presidential adviser),” the crowd chanted.
The only opposition party that has commented so far on Bouteflika’s statement is the Islamist Movement for the Society of Peace (MSP), saying Bouteflika leaving without real reforms was a move to undermine the protesters’ demands.
“This step is made to preserve the political system,” the MSP said in a statement.
Protests have been driven by youth demanding the removal of a ruling elite seen by many as out of touch with ordinary Algerians and unable to revive an economy riven by cronyism.
Bouteflika, 82 and in poor health, would take important decisions to ensure “continuity of the state’s institutions” before stepping down, the presidency said in Monday’s statement cited by state media. It did not elaborate.
Under Algeria’s constitution, Abdelkader Bensalah, chairman of the upper house of parliament, would take over as caretaker president for 90 days until elections are held.
Bouteflika, rarely seen in public since he suffered a stroke in 2013, at first sought to defuse the unrest by saying on March 11 he was dropping plans to run for a fifth term.
But he gave no timetable for his exit, advocating a national conference on reforms to address the outpouring of discontent over corruption, nepotism, economic mismanagement and the protracted grip on power of veterans.
Bouteflika’s hesitation further enraged protesters, spurring the army chief of staff to step in by proposing last week to implement a provision of the constitution under which a constitutional council would determine whether Bouteflika was still fit to govern or allow him to resign.
Most opposition parties have rejected a new caretaker government named by Bouteflika on Sunday because they see new Prime Minister Noureddine Bedoui as too close to the ruling elite.
Some demonstrators have rejected Algeria’s tradition of military intervention in civilian matters and want to dismantle the entire power elite, known locally as “le pouvoir”, which includes army officers, the long-ruling National Liberation Front (FLN) party, business tycoons and union leaders.
Several close allies, including FLN figures and union leaders, have in the past weeks abandoned Bouteflika.
(Writing by Ulf Laessing, Editing by William Maclean)