Algeria army chief urges leader removed

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-47710945

Algerian President Abdelaziz BouteflikaImage copyright
AFP/Getty

Image caption

President Abdelaziz Bouteflika has led Algeria since 1999

Algeria’s army chief of staff has demanded President Abdelaziz Bouteflika be declared unfit to rule after weeks of protests against him.

“We must find a way out of this crisis immediately, within the constitutional framework,” Lt Gen Ahmed Gaed Salah said in a speech on television.

The president has already agreed not to stand for a fifth term in upcoming elections, which have been delayed.

But demonstrators accuse him of a ploy to prolong his 20-year rule.

Talks have been set up to negotiate Algeria’s political future, which will be led by veteran UN diplomat Lakhdar Brahimi.

Protests began over a month ago when the 82-year-old president said he planned to stand for another term in office. But people continued to march even after he agreed not to stand, instead demanding immediate change.

Lt Gen Gaed Salah has previously said the military and the people had a united vision of the future, hinting at the armed forces’ support for the demonstrators.

What did the army chief say?

In his address broadcast by public Channel 3, the chief of staff and deputy defence minister said the constitution was “the only guarantee to preserve a stable political situation”.

He called for the use of Article 102, which allows Algeria’s Constitutional Council to declare the position of president vacant if the leader is unfit to rule.

President Bouteflika had a stroke in 2013, and has rarely been seen in public since.

“This solution achieves consensus and must be accepted by all,” Lt Gen Gaed Salah said to the applause of officers watching the speech.

A significant intervention

By Rana Jawad, BBC North Africa correspondent

The announcement by Algeria’s army chief is symbolically significant.

However, given the reality of president Bouteflika’s health status, the constitutional impasse over an extension to his current mandate until elections are held, and the rallying calls by protestors who remain on Algeria’s streets, the move is hardly unexpected.

Still, there will be questions over the army’s chief’s motivations.

In recent years, it is the president’s circle of political and army loyalists who appear to have spoken on his behalf as his absence peaked due to illness.

Lt Gen Ahmad Gaed Salah is viewed as fiercely loyal to Bouteflika and a central “pillar” to the ruling powers of Algeria – so much so that on the weekend, a privately-owned local newspaper reported that he “must go” along with Bouteflika.

The country’s constitutional Council will need to back this latest call, and then ultimately it will be left to the parliament to officially decide the President’s political fate.

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Media captionHalf of Algeria’s population is under the age of 30.

The dramatic intervention by the armed forces chief of staff is the latest development after weeks of sustained protest in Algeria.

Earlier this month Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia announced his resignation and was replaced by Interior Minister Noureddine Bedoui.

Recently announced talks meanwhile, which do not yet have a date, will aim to oversee the country’s political transition, draft a new constitution and set the date for elections.

Who is Abdelaziz Bouteflika?

A veteran of Algeria’s war of independence, Mr Bouteflika’s upper-class, Westernised style led him to be called “the dandy diplomat” in some quarters.

He came into office, backed by the army, after the 1990s civil war and was largely viewed as a unifier of the many factions underpinning Algerian politics.

Unlike some leaders in the region, his presidency survived the protests of the Arab Spring in 2011 – until now.

But since suffering a stroke in 2013 he has rarely been seen in public and does not travel around the country or abroad, except for medical treatment.

His aides represent him at events and read his messages to the public, and the announcement that he was not standing for a fifth presidential term was read on his behalf by a newsreader on national TV.

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