Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 June 2019

Algeria: Army says there will be no breakdown in security as thousands return to streets

Former minister becomes first regination as Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s troubles worsen

Algerian students demonstrate in the capital Algiers on March 5, 2019 against ailing President Abdelaziz Bouteflika's bid for a fifth term. AFP
Algerian students demonstrate in the capital Algiers on March 5, 2019 against ailing President Abdelaziz Bouteflika's bid for a fifth term. AFP

Thousands of people took to the streets of Algiers and other cities on Tuesday demanding that President Abdelaziz Bouteflika step down, as the country's army warned exacerbated civilians they would not allow a breakdown in security.

According to Ennahar TV the military chief of staff guaranteed his men were ready to provide security and would not allow a return to an era of bloodshed - referring to the country's 11-year civil war in the 90s. "There are some parties who want Algeria to return to the era of extreme pain," Lieutenant General Gaed Salah said.

But almost 70 per cent of Algerians are aged below 30 and want change.

They are agitating for new leaders, jobs, better services and an end to rampant corruption in a country that is one of Africa's largest oil producers.

Some members of the political elite have heeded the warnings. On Monday a former Algerian government minister resigned as a parliamentarian and member of the National Liberation Front (FLN), a rare sign of discontent within the ruling elite as the country has been hit by protests over President Abdelaziz Bouteflika's plan to seek re-election.

Sidi Ferroukhi, who has served as minister of agriculture, did not address Mr Bouteflika in a statement on Facebook while announcing his resignation, saying only that Algeria was going through exceptional circumstances and change.

A group of opposition leaders and political activists called for a postponement of the election, even as Mr Bouteflika promised to step down after a year if re-elected.

Mr Bouteflika's political survival may hinge on how the elite – made up of members of his FLN party, the military and business tycoons – react if protests keep growing.

Students determined to pursue the biggest anti-government protests in years boycotted classes on Monday protest Mr Bouteflika's offer to run in elections next month but not to serve a full term.

Hundreds staged small demonstrations in several cities outside the capital, footage posted online showed, continuing almost two weeks of marches and rallies against the 82-year-old leader's intent to seek a fifth term.

Mr Bouteflika's offer, made on Sunday, appeared aimed at taking the steam out of youthful opposition to his 20-year rule and shore up an establishment dominated by ageing revolutionary stalwarts of the 1954-62 independence war against France.

Shops were open in Algiers on Monday but students did not show up for classes at Bab Ezzouar University in Algiers, the biggest in the oil-producing North African country.

Several other university campuses in Algiers were deserted.

Mr Bouteflika's campaign manager said on Sunday that the president would run in the April 18 election, defying calls for him to quit even as the president is confined to a wheelchair after a stroke in 2013 and has not given a public speech in years. He communicates with letters.

The election announcement, read out by Abdelghani Zaalane on Mr Bouteflika's behalf, said the president pledged that if he won, he would organise a national conference to discuss reforms and then call early elections in which he would not run. Ennahar TV said the fresh vote would be held within a year.

Updated: March 5, 2019 09:40 PM

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