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Algerians demand 'radical' change despite Bouteflika's vow to quit

By AFP - Apr 02,2019 - Last updated at Apr 02,2019

Algerian students take part in a demonstraion against the current government in the capital Algiers on Tuesday (AFP photo)

ALGIERS — Hundreds of students hit the streets of the Algerian capital Tuesday dismissing President Abdelaziz Bouteflika's promise to resign as a diversion and demanding an overhaul of the country's political system.

The announcement on Bouteflika's resignation "doesn't change anything", psychology student Meriem Medjdoub said as she marched in central Algiers with around 1,000 protesters.

"We are demanding a radical change," she told AFP.

The ailing 82-year-old Bouteflika has been clinging to power despite weeks of protests that first erupted in February when he said we would seek a fifth term in power.

On Monday, his office said the president, who has rarely been seen in public since a 2013 stroke, will resign "before April 28" — the date marking the end of his current mandate.

The announcement came after a succession of loyalists deserted him in the face of the massive protests rocking Algeria.

Algeria's military on Tuesday demanded the immediate launch of impeachment proceedings against President Abdelaziz Bouteflika as it dismissed an announcement he will resign before his mandate expires.

Armed forces chief Ahmed Gaid Salah called for "the immediate application of the constitutional procedure for removing the head of state from power", in a defence ministry statement after a meeting of top brass.

The statement said the army considered an announcement from the presidency on Monday that Bouteflika would resign by the end of his term on April 28 as invalid because it did not come from the president himself.

"Any decision taken outside the constitutional framework is considered null and void," the general said.

Without naming anyone, Gaid Salah criticised "the stubbornness, the procrastination and the deviousness of certain individuals who are trying to make the crisis last and make it more complex with the only concern being their narrow personal interests".

He said the army’s “sole ambition” was to “protect the people from a handful of [other] people who have unduly taken over the wealth of the Algerian people”.

The announcement of Bouteflika’s resignation was greeted by the beeping of some car horns in Algiers on Monday, but there was little sign of euphoria as people insisted that the whole ruling establishment must go.

Some Algerians even shrugged it away as an “April’s Fool” and a “non-event”.

On Tuesday it was clear that for many Algerians Bouteflika’s departure after 20 years in charge was not decisive enough.

El Watan newspaper said the announced resignation was a “half measure... as long as the departure of all those who symbolise the [ruling] system has not really started”.

Liberte daily agreed saying “the end of Bouteflika’s long reign is far from being the same as the end of the system.”

Students on the streets of Algiers voiced doubts and concerns.

“It is a diversion... they are trying to gain time,” said Imen Zaaf.

“I wonder what is behind all this,” chimed in Yasmine, who like many Algerians believes the announced departure of Bouteflika is a manoeuvre by the veteran leader and members of his inner circle.

The presidency, in a brief statement carried by the official APS news agency on Monday, said Bouteflika will step down after “important decisions” are taken.

He would take “steps to ensure state institutions continue to function during the transition period”, the statement said.


Rumours swirl 


That in itself has raised a number of questions, with some seeing it as a bid by Bouteflika to place his allies firmly in power during a transition period.

The Movement for the Society of Peace, a moderate Islamist party, said “the president’s resignation... without reforms could end up conspiring against the popular movement”.

“Bouteflika’s departure is part of the solution,” journalism student Amina Yahyaoui said. But “all the members of the government” must go as well and then “the people should be allowed to vote freely to elect a new president”.

Algeria’s constitution says that once the president officially resigns the speaker of the upper house of Parliament would act as interim leader for up to 90 days during which a presidential election must be organised.

As rumours swirl of frantic behind-the-scenes manoeuvring, prosecutors on Monday announced they had banned corruption suspects from leaving Algeria after launching graft probes against unnamed individuals.

The authorities did not say who was being targeted by probes into corruption and illegal money transfers abroad, but they followed the arrest of the president’s key backer, businessman tycoon Ali Haddad.

Haddad, who Forbes magazine describes as one of Algeria’s wealthiest entrepreneurs, was detained overnight Saturday to Sunday at a border post with neighbouring Tunisia.

Local media said a search of his car revealed an unspecified amount of foreign currency and Algerian dinars which he did not declare at the border customs office.

Haddad was due to appear before an investigating magistrate.

The statement on Bouteflika’s impending resignation came after he named a new government on Sunday, made up mainly of technocrats under recently appointed premier Noureddine Bedoui.

The administration — supposed to steer the country towards transition — included army chief General Ahmed Gaid Salah remaining in his position as deputy defence minister.

Gaid Salah, a long-time Bouteflika ally, last week called on the president to resign or be declared unfit to rule, becoming one of the first of his faithful supporters to abandon him.

Among the other key Bouteflika backers is his younger brother and special adviser Said, who was frequently cited in the past as a likely successor to the president.

Discreet and rarely seen in public, Said Bouteflika has exerted increasing influence behind the scenes as his brother’s health woes worsened, but the president’s resignation could take away much of his power.

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