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Algeria’s Bouteflika will not run for fifth presidential term following mass protests

AFP file photo

Algeria's President Abdelaziz Bouteflika will not run for a fifth term and the April 18 presidential vote has been postponed, the presidency announced Monday. The dramatic announcement follows weeks of mass protests across the country.

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Bouteflika, in a message carried by national news agency APS, said a presidential poll would follow a national conference on political and constitutional reform to be carried out by the end of 2019.

In a series of announcements on Monday evening, the presidency said the election, previously set for April 18, would be postponed. It did not set a new date for the presidential vote. A new constitution would be submitted to the public for a referendum.

The announcement was immediately followed by a government reshuffle, with Noureddine Bedoui replacing Ahmed Ouyahia as Algeria’s new prime minister. Ramtane Lamamra was appointed the country’s new deputy prime minister, said Algerian media.

Over the past few weeks, tens of thousands of people from all social classes have been demonstrating almost daily against Bouteflika's decision to stand in the election, rejecting a stale political system dominated by veterans of an independence war against France that ended in 1962. The protests have also spread to France, Canada and other Western countries that are home to an Algerian diaspora.

Bouteflika, 82, has ruled for 20 years but has rarely been seen in public since suffering a stroke in 2013. His opponents say they do not believe he is in a fit state to run the country, and suspected he was being kept in place to protect the grip of the military and business elite.

France 24's Analysis

Bouteflika meets military chief, veteran Algerian diplomat

Following the announcement on state media, Bouteflika on Monday evening met with Army Chief of Staff Lieutenant General Gaed Salah and veteran Algerian diplomat Lakhdar Brahimi.

"The voice of the people has been heard," Brahimi, a former Algerian foreign minister and UN special envoy, said on state TV after meeting the ailing president. "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."

Political sources said the military would almost certainly play a leading role in Algeria’s transition process, and are already assessing three or four civilian figures who could be suitable for the presidency.

Brahimi, a well-known diplomat on the international stage and an old friend of Bouteflika, could be viewed by the military as a guarantor of stability, according to political analysts.

Algerians in Paris react to Bouteflika's announcement

Celebrations on the streets of Algiers

Shortly after the announcements, crowds took to the streets in the capital, Algiers, waving flags as passing cars beeped their horns.

"Our protests have borne fruit! We defeated the supporters of the fifth term!" said taxi-driver Mohamed Kaci, 50.

But FRANCE 24’s Meriem Amellal said the news was also received by a measure of caution in some quarters.You see people celebrating on the streets because it’s a kind of victory, the regime has listened to them and given them an answer, which is a first step,” said Amellal. “But there appears to be two different interpretations: either you interpret it as President Bouteflika will not run for a fifth term, or you can say he will extend his fourth term and this is not good news for the Algerian people.”

Has Bouteflika renounced a fifth term or just extended his fourth?

France welcomes decision

Responding to Bouteflika’s decision to renounce a fifth term, France – Algeria’s former colonial power – welcomed the news.

"Following large demonstrations, that took place peacefully and in a dignified manner across Algeria, France expresses the hope that a new dynamic, which responds to the aspirations of the Algerian people, can get under way quickly," said French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian in a statement.

The statement by Le Drian -- who is currently accompanying French President Emmanuel Macron on a visit to Djibouti -- also hailed Bouteflika’s decision to "take measures to renew Algeria's political system".

On Tuesday, Macron echoed Le Drian’s comments. "I welcome the decision by President Bouteflika, which is the start of a new page in the development of Algeria's democracy," he said at a press conference.

He also underlined the need for a “transition in a reasonable timeframe” as he pledged his country’s support for Algeria.

A shadowy ‘pouvoir’

The dramatic announcements came a day after the ailing octogenarian leader returned to Algeria from Switzerland, where he received treatment at a Geneva hospital.

More than 1,000 judges said on Monday they would refuse to oversee the election if Bouteflika stood. Clerics said they would not accept government orders about what to preach.

The protests have shattered years of political inertia and unsettled Algeria's opaque but powerful security establishment.

The secretive military-based establishment known to Algerians as "le pouvoir" (the powers-that-be) appears to have stood aside while the demonstrations have taken place. Security forces have been mostly restrained

In the clearest indication yet that the country’s powerful generals sympathise with protesters, the chief of staff said the military and the people had a united vision of the future, state TV reported over the weekend. Lieutenant General Gaed Salah did not mention the unrest.

Profile: Algeria's Abdelaziz Bouteflika

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP and REUTERS)

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