Thousands press for quick change in Algeria after president Abdelaziz Bouteflika concessions

Thousands press for quick change in Algeria after president Abdelaziz Bouteflika concessions

Kerry Wise
March 14, 2019

Algerian students demonstrate in the centre of the capital Algiers on 12 March 2019, one day after President Abdelaziz Bouteflika announced his withdrawal from a bid to win another term in office and postponed an 18 April election, following weeks of protests against his candidacy.

Monday marked the biggest jolt, when 82-year-old President Abdelaziz Bouteflika renounced a fifth presidential term, reshuffled his government, proclaimed the drafting of a new constitution and rescheduled presidential elections initially set for April to an unspecified date.

Emmanuel Macron, president of Algeria's former colonial ruler France, said Bouteflika's decision opened a new chapter and called for a "reasonable duration" to the transition period. "Bouteflika can still remain in power until the end of the so-called national conference, with no guarantees or a timetable".

Brahimi was formerly a United Nations mediator on Syria, and his appointment could ease concerns of foreign allies anxious about Algeria's unrest.

"We support efforts in Algeria to chart a new path forward based on dialogue that reflects the will of all Algerians and their aspirations for a peaceful and prosperous future", State Department spokesman Robert Palladino told a briefing.

Celebratory honking of vehicle horns rang out in the city center, which was deserted by police after they had deployed in large numbers earlier in the day.

Bouteflika's return from Geneva came as protest strikes Sunday shut down the capital's public transport system and many schools across the vast country.

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A conference, which does not yet have a set date, will aim to oversee the country's political transition, draft a new constitution and set the date for elections.

"We have won the battle".

"I think Algeria has drawn lessons from what's happened elsewhere", she said, adding the population has no appetite for revisiting its bloody past. "This will be a sleepless night", said 25-year-old Abdelghani Hachi.

'The students are resisting the extension of the fourth mandate, ' they chanted in an Algiers square that has been the epicentre of protests demanding Bouteflika resign.

Top clerics had already criticised pressure on them to issue pro-government sermons. Algerians are also letting out pent-up anger at corruption that has left the country's oil and gas riches in the hands of a few while millions of young people struggle to find jobs.

"The protests that changed his mind have shattered years of political inertia and unsettled Algeria's opaque but powerful security establishment", NPR's Eleanor Beardsley reports from Paris.

Others were more cautious, calling their longtime leader's pledge to step aside just a first step.