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Thousands protest in Algeria against Bouteflika’s election delay

Algerians students gather to protest against the fifth term of Abdelaziz Bouteflika at the University of Algiers in Algiers, Algeria, on 26 February 2019 [Farouk Batiche / Anadolu Agency]
Algerians gather to protest against the fifth term of Abdelaziz Bouteflika in Algiers, Algeria, on 26 February 2019 [Farouk Batiche / Anadolu Agency]

Thousands of people rallied in Algiers today to protest the decision of Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika to delay the election, calling for him to step down immediately.

“FLN go,” some shouted, referring to the ruling party the National Liberation Front, amid a heavy police presence across the capital; others held banners emblazoned with the slogan “Go means go”.

Although the demonstrations have been peaceful, security forces reportedly closed several roads leading to the capital from neighbouring towns and cities, preventing some from joining the protesters, but others continued on foot, determined to take part.

“Those who think we are tired are wrong. Our protests will not stop,” 37-year-old doctor, Madjid Benzida, told reporters.

The ailing Bouteflika announced last week that he would not run for a fifth term, a move that would have extended his 20 years in power, following weeks of protests. An election originally slated for April was also postponed. On Wednesday the government said it was ready for talks, saying it sought a ruling system based on “the will of the people”.

Yet trust in the system remains low with many perceiving the president’s decision as a tactic to buy time.

There have also been signs of dissent from within the FLN party, with one senior party figure saying in an interview overnight that President Bouteflika was “history now”. Hocine Kheldoun, a former spokesman for the ruling party, made the comments to Ennahar TV, and is one of the most senior figures to break with the president publicly.

READ: Army says it will preserve Algeria’s security in all circumstances

In an illustration of the disconnect between the ageing Bouteflika and restless young Algerians, the president announced his transition plan in a letter to a nation where people vent frustrations through social media.

“When you read the letter closely, it is very crafty. He says ‘I’m retiring’, but the further you read on, the clearer it becomes that it’s a ruse, that he’s side-stepping and hedging,” said Kader Abderrahim, analyst at Sciences Po university in France. “It’s about extending his fourth mandate into eternity. It took Algerians only a few hours to realise what was going on and to understand what he was up to.”

Algerians protest president’s bid for 5th term - Cartoon [Mohammad Sabaaneh/Middle East Monitor]

Algerians protest president’s bid for 5th term – Cartoon [Mohammad Sabaaneh/Middle East Monitor]

Demonstrations against corruption, unemployment and the ruling class have rocked the country over the past three weeks.

Algeria’s political sphere has been dominated by veterans of the country’s Independence War from France in 1962. Bouteflika has ruled the country since 1999, despite promising in 2012 to step down after his third term. The president is now wheelchair bound after suffering a stroke in 2013, and has not spoken publicly for the past five years.

Yesterday, Algeria’s new prime minister, Noureddine Bedoui, announced that he will form a temporary government of technocrats and others to work towards political change

“This government will have a short period, and its role is to be the support for the national conference and what Algerians agree upon,” he said, adding that it would be technocratic but also include young Algerians involved in the protest movement, including women.

READ: The Algerian regime is ‘politically dead’ so there is cause for optimism

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