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New Algerian Opposition Group Urges Army against Interfering in Protests

New Algerian Opposition Group Urges Army against Interfering in Protests

Tuesday, 19 March, 2019 - 11:30
People take part in a protest demanding immediate political change in Algiers. (Reuters)
Asharq Al-Awsat
A new group of activists and opposition figures emerged in Algeria late on Monday to urge the army against interfering in ongoing protests against President Abdelaziz Bouteflika.

In the first direct message to the army from leaders emerging from nearly a month of mass protests, the National Coordination for Change said the military should “play its constitutional role without interfering in the people’s choice”.

So far, soldiers have stayed in their barracks during the protests. But on Monday, Chief of Staff Lieutenant-General Ahmed Gaed Salah hinted at a more active role, saying the army should take responsibility for finding a quick solution to the crisis.

Bouteflika, who has ruled for 20 years, bowed to the protesters last week by announcing he would not stand for another term. But he stopped short of stepping down immediately and said he would stay in office until a new constitution is adopted, effectively extending his present term.

His moves have done nothing to halt demonstrations, which peaked on Friday with hundreds of thousands of protesters on the streets of Algiers and have continued into this week.

“We will not stop our pressure until he (Bouteflika) goes,” said student Ali Adjimi, 23. “The people want you to leave”, read a banner.

Thousands of students, university professors and health workers rallied in Algiers on Tuesday. One of the demonstrators, Djilali Bahi said: “We are fed up with this system. It must disappear forever”.

The 82-year-old president has rarely been seen in public since suffering a stroke in 2013. The protesters say he is in no fit health to rule.

The protest leaders issued their statement titled “Platform of Change” late on Monday, demanding that Bouteflika step down before the end of his term on April 28 and the government resign immediately.

Prominent members of the new group include lawyer and activist Mustapha Bouchachi, opposition leader Karim Tabou and former treasury minister Ali Benouari, as well as Mourad Dhina and Kamel Guemazi.

“Bouteflika just trampled on the constitution after he decided to extend his fourth term,” said the National Coordination for Change.

Bouteflika’s newly appointed deputy prime minister, Ramtane Lamamra, has launched a tour of allied countries seeking support. On Tuesday he visited Moscow, long a close military ally of Algeria.

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Russia was concerned by protests in Algeria and saw attempts underway to destabilize the situation.

Lamamra defended the government’s reform proposals. Bouteflika has agreed to hand over power to an elected president, and the opposition will be allowed to take part in the cabinet that will oversee elections, he said at a joint press conference with Lavrov, adding that the government had responded to the legitimate demands of the Algerian people.

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