Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 17 June 2019

Algeria: Lakhdar Brahimi denies leading national committee

Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika has decided not to seek a fifth term in office

Algerian students protest in Algiers on Tuesday, one day after President Abdelaziz Bouteflika announced the withdrawal of his bid to run for a fifth term in office and the postponement of next month's elections. EPA
Algerian students protest in Algiers on Tuesday, one day after President Abdelaziz Bouteflika announced the withdrawal of his bid to run for a fifth term in office and the postponement of next month's elections. EPA

Lakhdar Brahimi denied on Wednesday that he he'd been tasked with leading Algeria's national committee for the country's transition talks.

“I have not been appointment, but in the case that I will be, I shall accept the task as it is the duty to my country,” Mr Brahimi said.

The announcement, made during an interview with Algerian state television, followed a report by Reuters on Tuesday in which the agency cited a government source saying they wanted the 85-year-old head the country's political process.

However Mr Brahimi did not rule out accepting the job if presented with it. “There must be a broad consensus on who will preside over the transitional talks,” he said, adding that others would also be suited for the job, without specifying who.

Algeria needs a “genuine transitional dialogue that will have common ground,” Mr Brahimi said.

The former Arab League official warned against foreign intervention, saying these often have a “devastating effect".

Mr Brahimi also denied that President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s health is deteriorating, as had been widely reported following his hospitalisation in Geneva.

“He is in a stable condition, although he voice is low and he is not allowed to publically speak”, Mr Brahimi said, adding that the president is aware of his surroundings.

The US State Department, responding to Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika's decision not to seek a fifth term in office, has backed the country's efforts "to chart a new path forward".

Mr Bouteflika finally yielded to protests on Monday by postponing elections and dropping plans to stand for another term and cancelled next month's presidential election.

"We support efforts in Algeria to chart a new path forward based on dialogue that reflects the will of all Algerians and their aspirations for a peaceful and prosperous future," State Department spokesman Robert Palladino said.

Algerian teachers demonstrated against their longtime president as political uncertainty continues to grip the gas-rich North African country, demanding that he step down now or at the latest when his current term ends next month.

Teachers gathered on Wednesday outside the central post office in the capital, Algiers, to protest President Abdelaziz Bouteflika's decision to delay next month's election. Algerian media reported teachers' protests in other cities too.

Opposition parties also held a joint meeting in Algiers to plot next steps.

Thousands of protesters returned to Algeria's streets a day earlier on Tuesday after jubilation over his vow not to seek re-election gave way to fears of a plot to prolong his two-decade rule.

After initial celebration, thousands of students, along with some lecturers, held a new protest in the capital Tuesday, accusing Mr Bouteflika of "tricks".

"The students are resisting the extension of the fourth mandate," they chanted in an Algiers square that has been the epicentre of protests demanding Mr Bouteflika resign.

Protesters held up signs saying: "No extra time. This is not a football match."

Demonstrators gathered for hours in central Algiers before dispersing late afternoon.

Students also took to the streets of major cities Oran and Constantine, where they were joined by professors, according to media reports.

The President announced on Monday that a "national conference" would set a new date for polls that he would not contest.

"There will not be a fifth term" and "there will be no presidential election on April 18," he said.

The veteran leader, who uses a wheelchair and has rarely appeared in public since suffering a stroke in 2013, said he was responding to "a pressing demand that you have been numerous in making to me".

National television broadcast footage on Monday night of Mr Bouteflika in his trademark three-piece suit talking to several senior officials.

The man expected to steer Algeria's political transition is a career diplomat who is older than Mr Bouteflika and may not be well-received by the very protesters who have taken to the streets to call for Algerian president to step aside.

Lakhdar Brahimi, the veteran diplomat, is now likely to chair a conference planning Algeria's future.

A former foreign minister, Mr Brahimi has carried out troubleshooting missions for the United Nations across several regions and mediated on some of the Middle East's thorniest conflicts.

Though not directly or publicly involved in national politics, he is a heavyweight of Algeria's establishment, long viewed as a possible presidential candidate. He is close to Mr Bouteflika.

"The voice of the people has been heard," Mr Brahimi said on state television after Mr Bouteflika's announcement that he would not seek a new term.

"Young people who took to the streets acted responsibly and gave a good image of the country. We must turn this crisis into a constructive process."

Mr Bouteflika has said his own final act will be to usher in a new system that will be in "the hands of a new generation of Algerians".

The "inclusive and independent" national conference that Brahimi is expected to head is tasked with drafting a new constitution and setting a date for elections by the end of 2019.

It is likely to include prominent war veterans as well as representatives of the protest movement which has brought tens of thousands of people on to the streets since last month.

Updated: March 14, 2019 10:00 AM

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