Thousands demand quick change in Algeria after Bouteflika concessions

Algeria's president of two decades abandoned his bid for a fifth term Monday following unprecedented protests over his fitness for office, but his simultaneous postponement of an election set for next month had critics anxious he intends to hold on to power.

French President Emmanuel Macron urged Algerian authorities to organise a "reasonable" transition after President Abdelaziz Bouteflika dropped a bid for a fifth term in office and scrapped upcoming elections.

Bouteflika, 82, has barely been seen in public since a 2013 stroke.

The president announced on Monday that a "national conference" would set a new date for polls that he would not contest. "Bouteflika can still remain in power until the end of the so-called national conference, with no guarantees or a timetable".

"The voice of the people has been heard", Brahimi, a former foreign minister and United Nations special envoy, said on state television after meeting Bouteflika.

In response, a popular Algerian satirical Twitter account tweeted, "We said no to a fifth term".

Celebrations popped up instead of protests on the streets of the capital, Algiers, at the news the president had dropped his re-election bid. It will oversee the transition, draft a new constitution and set the date for elections.

Political sources said the military would nearly certainly play a leading role in the transition process, and was assessing three or four civilians who could be eligible to become leaders.


"It's a very important moment because power in Algeria has never backed down", said Benjamin Stora, a leading historian of Algeria.

"To tell the Algerians that he understood their message, it was necessary that heads fall", said a former executive of the FLN, the ruling party.

"It's one small battle won", said Yasmine Bouchene, of the collective Les Jeunes Engagés (Activist Youth).

However, more than two-thirds of Algerians are now under 30, and are seeking a more "democratic Algeria" as they chanted in the protests.

The announcement came a day after Bouteflika returned home after his two-week stay in a Swiss hospital.

Algeria's powerful military is expected to play its traditional behind-the-scenes role during the transition and is now considering several civilians as candidates for the presidency and other top positions, political sources said. They're also angry at what's seen as a corrupt and out-of-touch power structure that has grown rich under Bouteflika while millions see little gain from the country's gas wealth.

"There will be no presidential election on April 18", the veteran leader said, adding that he was responding to "a pressing demand that you have many of you have made to me". Broad, nationwide protests are expected Friday.


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