|Date: Mar 21, 2019|
|Source: The Daily Star|
|Algeria army chief, FLN throw support behind protesters|
|Bouteflika party says it backs Algeria protests|
ALGIERS: Algeria’s army chief said the public had expressed “noble aims” during protests against President Abdelaziz Bouteflika and the ruling FLN party withdrew its support for him, in the heaviest blows for the veteran leader since the unrest began. Lt. Gen. Ahmad Gaed Salah said that a month of demonstrations had been “marked by the deeds of noble aims and pure intentions, through which the Algerian people have clearly expressed their values and principles of sincere and dedicated work to Allah and the motherland.”
The comments, made Tuesday during a tour of a military district and carried by Algerian media Wednesday, were the clearest signal yet that the army was distancing itself from the ailing Bouteflika, in power for 20 years.
The ruling National Liberation Front party, or FLN, also sided with the protesters after a meeting of its top officials.
The “FLN fully supports the popular protest movement,” the APS state news agency quoted FLN leader Moad Bouchareb as saying.
The party also called for negotiations to ensure stability in Algeria, a major oil and gas producer.
“There is a need to work devoutly and advocate unified dialogue,” Bouchareb added, according to the APS agency.
Bouteflika, 82, bowed to the protesters last week by reversing plans to stand for a fifth term. But he stopped short of stepping down and said he would stay in office until a new constitution is adopted, effectively extending his present term. Leaders who have emerged from the protest movement have not yet built up enough momentum to force Bouteflika to quit or make more concessions. But the position of the army chief of staff and the FLN could make his position untenable.
The military, which wields enormous power from behind the scenes, has patiently watched the struggle from the sidelines, while making it clear that chaos would not be tolerated.
The president has rarely been seen in public since suffering a stroke five years ago, and the protesters say a shadowy circle of aides, including his powerful younger brother Said, have been ruling the country in his name.
Bouteflika had proved adept at consolidating his power.
In 2016, he dissolved the long-standing military spy directorate known as the DRS, creating a new agency under the control of the presidency in another step to ease the military out of politics, security sources said.
Last year, he dismissed a dozen military officers to concentrate power in his inner nonmilitary circle.
Bouteflika, however, can no longer afford to antagonize the generals, who have previously intervened in politics at critical moments, including in the early 1990s.
The military then canceled an election that an Islamist party had been poised to win, triggering almost a decade of civil war in which some 200,000 people were killed.
A possible role for Islamists in any future government is one of the issues that could divide the public and potentially provoke the military.
For years, rumors have swirled about potential successors for Bouteflika, but no one credible has emerged who has the backing of the army and elite and is not in their 70s or 80s.
Bouteflika has been falling back on a strategy that has worked with the opposition in the past - buying time to search for opportunities to divide and rule.
But that looks less likely to succeed now with so many allies withdrawing support. The Ennahar online news site, which is close to Bouteflika, has suggested that the president would step down once his current term ends on April 28.
Bouteflika sent Deputy Prime Minister Ramtane Lamamra on a tour of allied countries to seek support for efforts to defuse the crisis.
In Berlin, Lamamra said Bouteflika would hand over power to a democratically elected successor after a new constitution has been approved and a national conference on the way forward has been held.
Bouteflika party says it backs Algeria protests
ALGIERS: The party of ailing Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika said Wednesday it supports protesters' calls for change while advocating his initiative for dialogue to overcome the country's political crisis.
National Liberation Front (FLN) chief Mouad Bouchareb said the government "was not in the hands of the party," in remarks seen as an attempt to distance the FLN from the Bouteflika regime.
The FLN has been in power since Algeria won independence in 1962.
Algeria has been gripped by unprecedented protests since February 22, following Bouteflika's announcement he was running for a fifth term as president despite concerns about his ability to run the country.
The 82-year-old president uses a wheelchair and has rarely appeared in public since suffering a stroke in 2013.
"FLN activists fully support the popular movement" by which "the people demand change through massive street marches," said Bouchareb.
Bouteflika, who is honorary leader of the party, had "made it clear he was moving towards changing the system, towards a new Algeria," Bouchareb said.
"The people spoke unequivocally and FLN activists... will work to achieve the expected goals following a clear plan," he said. "It is necessary to sit around a table for dialogue to attain a new Algeria."
The FLN and its allies have for months supported Bouteflika's bid for a fifth term, with the party appointing him as its candidate for elections that had been scheduled for April 18.
Bouteflika, who has been in power for two decades, on Feb. 10 said he intended to stand in the election, triggering weeks of protests against the move.
In a surprise announcement on March 11, he said he was pulling out of the race, in a move initially greeted with elation by the protesters before they realized he still intended to remain in office.
The veteran leader announced he was rolling out reforms through a "national conference,, and confirmed on Monday that his plan would see him stay in power after his term ends on April 28.