Middle East

Algerians protest Bouteflika decision to delay elections

Thousands protested in Algeria on Tuesday against President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s decision to delay presidential elections indefinitely.

Hundreds of demonstrators, most of them students, gathered at the Grande Poste D’Alger Square in the nation’s capital of Algiers, saying Bouteflika was just “playing with words.”

“The students are resisting the extension of the fourth mandate,” they chanted.

Huge crowds also gathered in several other cities throughout the country, including the Mediterranean port of Bejaia, where Ennahar TV reported that workers began a strike that paralyzed operations there. Protests are expected nationwide on Friday.

Bouteflika, 82, announced on Monday that he would not seek a fifth term, bowing to weeks of mass demonstrations against his two-decade-long rule, but stopped short of stepping down. He also postponed an April 18 election without setting a new date, a move that could leave him in power indefinitely.

Threatening democracy

His decision to withdraw his candidacy sparked celebrations on Monday, though many called it only a first step. Critics fear that the president’s maneuver to delay elections threatens democracy and could pave the way for him to handpick a successor.

Protestors on Tuesday demanded quicker action from the Algerian government which, adept at manipulating opposition groups, might attempt to weaken and divide the protests.

“The whole system must disappear immediately. Our battle will continue,” Noureddine Habi, a 25-year-old student, told Reuters news agency in Algiers.

Protests erupted last month against Bouteflika’s plans to seek a fifth term, drawing millions to the streets. Young people in Algeria have been at the forefront of the demonstrations against the Algerian president, whose government is filled with other veterans of the 1954-1962 war of independence against France.

‘Reasonable duration’ to transition

Bouteflika is expected to name Lakhdar Brahimi, a prominent international peacemaker who worked as a UN mediator in Syria, to lead a new “national conference” aimed at setting a new election date and drafting a new constitution. The appointment of Brahimi, who is also in his 80s, could ease concerns of foreign allies, but many critics have dismissed him as a has-been who has spent too much time abroad to understand Algeria’s current situation.

France, which has a large Algerian population, have been watching the developments closely. French President Emmanuel Macron said on Tuesday that Bouteflika’s announcement opened a new chapter for the North African country, but called for a “reasonable duration” to the transition period.

“I think it’s a sign of maturity. We will do everything to accompany Algeria in this transition with friendship and respect.”

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