From peacemaker to ailing recluse: Bouteflika’s two decades at helm of Algeria
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President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, a veteran of Algeria's independence struggle who has ruled the North African country for two decades, is facing a wave of protests by crowds angry at his plans to seek a fifth term in office.
A political survivor, Bouteflika is widely credited with helping to end a crippling civil war – pitting the army against Islamist insurgents – that killed some 200,000 people in the 1990s. But the 82-year-old has been largely out of sight since he suffered a stroke in 2013 that confined him to a wheelchair and severely impaired his speech. And his decision to stand for a fifth term in office has unleashed major protests in a country struggling with economic and political stagnation.
Here is a timeline of Bouteflika’s two decades in power.
April 15, 1999: With the country mired in civil war, Bouteflika, a former minister, is elected to the Algerian presidency with 73.79% of votes cast.
Backed by the army, he was running unopposed as the candidate of the ruling National Liberation Front (FLN) after other candidates pulled out, citing fears of electoral fraud.
September 16, 1999: Bouteflika’s Civil Concord Law is overwhelmingly approved in a referendum, leading to a sharp decline in violence. It includes an amnesty for Islamist fighters who were not involved in “mass killings and rapes” and who agree to submit to the authority of the state.
The criteria for amnesty are broadened in a later law, approved by referendum in 2005. Some 15,000 Islamist fighters are thought to have laid down their weapons since 1999.
March 2002: The president says Tamazight, the Berber language, will be recognized as an official language, a year after a brutal crackdown on protesters in the Berber heartland of Kabylie kills at least 50 people.
It will take parliament another 14 years to sanction the Berber language’s official status.
June 2002: The FLN wins parliamentary elections marred by violence, low turnout and accusations of fraud. Throughout Bouteflika’s presidency, similar accusations will tarnish subsequent legislative elections, all of them won by the ruling party and its allies.
April 2004: Bouteflika is reelected for a second term in a landslide poll win.
- Al Qaeda threat
April 11, 2007: Thirty-three people are killed in two bomb blasts in the capital, Algiers, one of them targeting the government’s headquarters. The attacks are claimed by al Qaeda’s recently rebranded North African branch, al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQMI).
September 6, 2007: The president’s motorcade is targeted in a suicide attack claimed by AQMI. Three months later, the terrorist group also claims responsibility for bombs targeting the Constitutional Council and United Nations offices in Algiers.
- Unlimited terms
November 2008: Algeria’s parliament approves constitutional changes removing the two-term limit for the presidency. Five months later, Bouteflika is reelected for a third term with 90.24% of the vote.
January 2011: Protests over unemployment and the high cost of living break out in the wake of a popular uprising in neighbouring Tunisia. Government steps to cut the price of basic foodstuffs are deemed insufficient by the opposition.
February 2011: Bouteflika lifts a two-decade-old state of emergency, meeting a key demand of protesters. While protests drag on until the end of 2012, Algeria avoids the large-scale upheaval witnessed elsewhere during the Arab Spring uprisings.
December 2012: During a visit to Algiers, then-French President François Hollande acknowledges the suffering caused by France's “unjust and brutal” colonisation of Algeria, though he stops short of an apology.
- A bloodbath and a stroke
January 2013: Dozens of foreign workers are taken hostage at the remote In Amenas gas plant by members of Islamist group al-Murabitoun. Algerian special forces storm the site after a four-day siege that leaves 40 workers and 29 militants dead.
April 2013: Bouteflika suffers a stroke that leaves him wheelchair-bound and severely diminished. He spends three months in France receiving treatment.
May 2014: The ailing president secures a fourth term with another landslide win, despite taking no part in the campaign. The opposition says his election is deeply flawed.
- Down but not out
January 2016: Having all but vanished from the public eye, Bouteflika tightens his grip on power by dissolving the powerful DRS security agency, widely regarded as a “state within the state”. The army-run body is replaced with an agency controlled by the presidency.
Months earlier, Bouteflika sacked Mohamed Mediène, the head of DRS for 25 years.
August 2017: Prime Minister Abdelmadjid Tebboune is fired just three months after his appointment amid bitter infighting in the president’s entourage. His replacement is Bouteflika’s chief of staff, Ahmed Ouyahia.
- An election too far?
February 10, 2019: Ending months of speculation, Bouteflika confirms he will seek a fifth mandate in a presidential election on April 18, state media announce.
February 22: Anger at the president’s attempts to cling on to power boils over as tens of thousands of people demonstrate in several cities including Algiers, where protests have been banned since 2001.
March 1: After a string of smaller protests, huge crowds rally again in Algiers and elsewhere in the country to voice their anger at the president’s re-election bid. Riot police fire tear gas to disperse the protesters.
March 3: State television reads out a letter from Bouteflika, now aged 82, vowing that he will not serve a full term if re-elected and will let a national conference set a date for early polls in which he will not participate.
With the president believed to be in Switzerland for medical treatment, his campaign manager formally submits his candidacy.