Saturday, 23 March, 2019

Algerian students protest against Bouteflika 'tricks'

Algerian youths hold up a national flag during a demonstration in the capital Algiers Algerian youths hold up a national flag during a demonstration in the capital Algiers
Leonard Rios | 14 March, 2019, 07:16

In a letter addressed to Algerian citizens on Monday, Bouteflika announced the holding of the presidential election as an extension of the "inclusive and independent" national conference and the "formation of a government of national competences".

Demonstrators immediately celebrated Bouteflika's reversal - even as they repeated calls for him to leave office immediately.

Most crucially, Bouteflika helped reconcile his own citizens after a decade of civil war between radical Muslim militants and Algeria's security forces that left some 200,000 people dead in the 1990s and almost tore Algeria apart. This will delay the elections, but Mr Bouteflika has promised not to seek a fifth term. It's been an unusual public outpouring for a country tightly controlled by the security services.

Algerians have hardly seen Bouteflika since he suffered a stroke in 2013, and anger has mounted at the country's secretive power structure.

Bouteflika's return from Geneva - where he spent the past two weeks in hospital - came as protest strikes Sunday shut down the capital's public transport system and many schools across Algeria.

- 1963-79: Bouteflika is foreign minister under Ben Bella and the country's second president Houari Boumediene. Protests also were held in neighbouring Rabat, Morocco.

Earlier on Monday, some 1,000 judges said they would not oversee the election if Bouteflika ran, and religious leaders declared their intention to oppose him.

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"I salute President Bouteflika's decision, which marks a new page [of the Algerian history, ]" Macron said at a press conference with Djibouti's President Ismail Omar Guelleh, as quoted by the Algerie 1 news outlet.

Sources told Reuters a conference on "planning Algeria's future" will be held soon, chaired by former foreign minister and United Nations special envoy Lakhdar Brahimi. "The government can be changed but ... this mean nothing for Algerians who are calling for a real reform".

France, home to a large Algerian population and with close economic ties to its former colony, has been watching the protests closely.

The worldwide reaction was comparably upbeat, as French President Emmanuel Macron proclaimed the beginning of a new chapter in Algerian history, provided the transition period has a "reasonable duration".

But for numerous protesters, the most important sentence said: "There will be no fifth term". "On 8 March, for the third consecutive Friday, important popular marches took place across the country", read the statement, circulated on Bouteflika's behalf by APS, the country's official news agency.

Lack of job opportunities is a key concern for young Algerians, many of whom take risky illegal journeys across the Mediterranean to seek work in Europe.

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