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Protests cut Algeria’s President Abdelaziz Bouteflika fifth term bid

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After weeks of protests, Algeria’s ailing President Abdelaziz Bouteflika made a surprise announcement Monday that he is dropping his bid for a fifth term in office.

It was his second move since protests began last month. Last week, he promised to resign after spending one year out of his expected fifth term. The promise failed to placate Algerians, who wanted him to quit because of his old age and ill-health.

Protests cut Algeria’s President Abdelaziz Bouteflika fifth term bid

The latest announcement came as the protests widened with lawyers joining the strike action on Monday and demanding the Constitutional Council reject his candidacy on grounds of “incapacity” to carry out the role.

It also came a day after he returned from hospital in Geneva, to meet the shut down of Algiers public transport system and many schools across Algeria.

“There will not be a fifth term,” Bouteflika said in a message carried by the official APS news agency, while implying that he would remain in office until his term expires on April 28.

“There will be no presidential election on April 18,” the veteran leader said, adding that he was responding to “a pressing demand that you have been numerous in making to me”.

He vowed “to hand over the duties and prerogatives of the president of the republic to the successor freely chosen by the Algerian people”.

The announcement was followed by the naming of interior minister Noureddine Bedoui as prime minister in place of Ahmed Ouyahia, according to APS.

“Peacefully, we have overthrown the puppet!” people sang in the streets of Algiers following the announcement.

Celebratory honking of car horns rang out in the city centre, which was deserted by police who had deployed in large numbers earlier Monday.

Bouteflika, whose rare public appearances since a stroke in 2013 have been in a wheelchair, returned to Algeria on Sunday after spending two weeks at a hospital in Switzerland.

Demonstrations against Bouteflika’s bid for another term have brought tens of thousands of protesters onto the streets for each of the last three Fridays, with smaller demonstrations taking place on other days.

Former colonial power France on Monday welcomed the president’s decision.

“France expresses its hope that a new dynamic that can answer the deep aspirations of the Algerian people will rapidly take hold,” Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said in a statement.

The 82-year-old leader had left Algeria on February 24 for what the presidency described as “routine medical checks”.

Since the breakout of protests last month, Algeria’s army chief, Ahmed Gaid Salah, has pledged to guarantee national security and criticised those he said want to return to the “painful years” of the civil war of the 1990s.

Bouteflika became president in 1999, Since then he has clung on to power despite his ill health.

Dubbed Boutef by Algerians, he had helped foster peace after the decade-long civil war, but he also faced criticism for alleged authoritarianism.

When the Arab Spring uprisings erupted across the Middle East and North Africa, Bouteflika’s regime smothered dissent and played on fears of a repeat of Algeria’s civil war.

His government lifted a 19-year state of emergency, granted pay rises and announced piecemeal political reforms.

Little by little, Bouteflika returned the regime to its authoritarian ways.

He was elected for a fourth term in April 2014 with 81.5 percent of the vote, despite not campaigning.

Bouteflika has a history of medical problems and has often flown to France or Switzerland for treatment.

 

(NAN)

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