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Defiant Bouteflika Insists on National Conference ahead of Electing Successor

Defiant Bouteflika Insists on National Conference ahead of Electing Successor

Monday, 18 March, 2019 - 18:30
A demonstrator carries a national flag during protest over Bouteflika's decision to postpone elections and extend his fourth term in office, in Algiers, Algeria March 15, 2019. (Reuters)
Asharq Al-Awsat
Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika on Monday defied protesters, insisting on holding a national conference to reform the political system and approving a new constitution before electing his successor.

In a letter reported by Ennahar television, he said that the conference will be held shortly.

The forum will take “decisive decisions”, state television quoted him as saying. A new constitution will then pave the way for a new president, the private Ennahar station added.

The scenario broadly reflects a timetable for change that Bouteflika mapped out on March 11.

Bouteflika, 82, last week bowed to demonstrators who say he unfit to run Algeria by announcing he had reversed a decision to stand for another term. But he stopped short of stepping down and postponed elections due in April, in effect extending his current term until a new constitution can be prepared.

Demonstrators say Bouteflika is no state of health to run the country, and they want to see a new generation of leadership tackle deep-seated economic problems and corruption.

The ailing leader has ruled for two decades but has rarely been seen in public since suffering a stroke five years ago.

His comments were published shortly after the chief of staff, Lieutenant-General Ahmed Gaed Salah, said the army should take responsibility for finding a quick solution to its political crisis, in the most overt signal of potential military intervention since demonstrations erupted three weeks ago.

So far, the powerful army has remained in barracks during the demonstrations, with the security forces mainly monitoring mostly peaceful demonstrations in Algiers and other cities.

“The army will remain a fortified fortress for the country,” Salah said on state TV. “We should be responsible for finding solutions as soon as possible. There is no problem without solution.”

He added: “I’m confident the Algerian people are wise and able to overcome all difficulties.”

Bouteflika’s concessions last week have brought no halt to the demonstrations, which are expected to continue on Tuesday, Algeria’s Independence Day holiday. On Monday, doctors called for mass protests during the celebrations.

In a statement, the independent Collective of Algerian Medical Residents (CAMRA) urged medical students to take part and denounce the “ruling gangs”.

Protesters are desperate for a new generation of leaders who can tackle the country’s pressing problems: a stagnant economy and high unemployment despite vast oil and gas resources.

In another concession, the Ministry of Religious Affairs on Sunday informed clerics that they are no longer required to submit texts of their sermons to authorities for approval. One of the most influential clerics in Algiers expressed his opposition to the government last week.

Since returning from medical treatment in Switzerland last week, Bouteflika has been losing allies, including senior members of the ruling National Liberation Front party, known by its French acronym FLN.

Bouteflika named Noureddine Bedoui as prime minister last week, but on Monday leaders of 13 independent Algerian labor unions refused to support his efforts to form a cabinet.

“We will not hold discussions with this system, we belong to the people and the people said ‘No’ to the system,” Boualem Amora, a leader of an education union, told reporters.

Meziane Meriane, a union official from the education sector, declined a meeting with Bedoui because her representatives do not want to be part of a government that is "condemned by the people."

"We are with the street demanding change, but this prime minister who was interior minister in the outgoing government does not correspond to the break demanded by the people," Meriane said.

The state doctors' union boss, Lyes Merabet, also declined a meeting on discussions over the creation of the new government.

"We are for a total break," Merabet said.

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