|Date: Mar 19, 2019|
|Source: The Daily Star|
|Bouteflika defies pressure to step down immediately|
ALGIERS: Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika Monday again defied mass protests calling for his immediate resignation, insisting on a plan to elect a successor only after a national conference and new constitution is approved.
Bouteflika, 82, last week bowed to demonstrators who say he is 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.
In a letter reported by Ennahar television, the veteran leader repeated an earlier plan for a national conference to reform the political system, which would 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.
Demonstrators say Bouteflika is in 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.
His comments were published shortly after the chief of staff, Lt. Gen. 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 the capital 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.”
The army has generally wielded power in Algeria behind the scenes, but has intervened publicly during pivotal moments. In the early ’90s, generals cancelled elections which an Islamist party was set to win, triggering almost a decade of civil war that killed some 200,000 people.
Bouteflika’s concessions last week have brought no halt to the demonstrations, which are expected to continue Tuesday, Algeria’s Independence Day holiday. 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.”
In another concession, the Religious Affairs Ministry Sunday informed imams that they are no longer required to submit texts of their sermons to authorities for approval. One of the most influential imams in Algiers expressed his opposition to the government last week.
Bouteflika named a new prime minister last week, but 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.
Newly-appointed Deputy Prime Minister Ramtane Lamamra is expected to start a global tour Tuesday of some of Algeria’s main allies abroad to explain the new political road map, a Foreign Ministry official said.
The tour will start Tuesday with a visit to Moscow, Algeria’s most important military ally.
It will also include EU countries and China, which has invested billions of dollars in Algeria.