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Students, doctors rally in Algiers urging Bouteflika to quit

Ryad Kramdi, AFP | Algerian health care workers demonstrate in the capital Algiers on March 19, 2019. The placard reads in French: “He prolongs his term, we prolong our struggle.”

Hundreds of students and doctors rallied in Algiers Tuesday calling for President Abdelaziz Bouteflika to step down after his term expires on April 28.

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Students massed in the centre of Algiers while doctors protested at another location in the Algerian capital calling for Bouteflika to quit more than a week after the ailing president announced the April 18 presidential poll was postponed and that he would remain in office until a national conference on political and constitutional reform was completed by the end of the year.

The announcement has not appeased protesters who maintain Bouteflika should leave office once his term expires.

"We will not stop our pressure until he (Bouteflika) goes," said student Ali Adjimi, 23.

The new round of demonstrations came as a group of Algerian politicians and opposition figures issued a first direct message to the country’s powerful military to "play its constitutional role without interfering in the people's choice".

In a statement titled "Platform of Change", the National Coordination for Change also pushed the government to resign.

"There is an urgent need to make radical changes of the system in place with new personnel," said the group.

Algerian authorities have always been able to manipulate a weak opposition. But new influential opponents have emerged from growing protests that peaked on Friday, with hundreds of thousands of people on the streets of Algiers.

Prominent members of the new group include lawyer and human rights activist Mustapha Bouchachi, opposition leader Karim Tabou and former treasury minister Ali Benouari, as well as two well-known Islamists, Mourad Dhina and Kamel Guemaz.

Bouteflika seeks to stay beyond term date

The Platform for Change calls for Bouteflika’s resignation came a day after the ailing, octogenarian president confirmed, in a statement carried by state media, he will stay in power beyond his term expiration date.

Bouteflika announced on March 11 that he was withdrawing from his bid for a fifth term, initially sparking elation among protesters before they realised he would be remain in office beyond his term.

The 82-year-old also scrapped the election set for April 18 and announced he was rolling out reforms through a "national conference".

Rarely seen in public since a 2013 stroke, Bouteflika issued a statement on Monday that confirmed his new plan would see him stay in power for months beyond the expiry of his term at the end of April.

"[I hope] that Algeria experiences, in the near future, a harmonious transition and assists handing over the reins to a new generation," he said in the statement carried by state media.

"This is the ultimate goal that I have committed to making a reality before the end of my presidential mandate, at your side and at your service," added Bouteflika.

While Bouteflika has given no timetable for his national conference, he said the shake-up of Algeria's "political, economic and social systems" would start "in the very near future".

A constitutional review would be put before a referendum, he said, which would be "a prelude to a new electoral process that will see the election of a new president".

Protests initially erupted last month after Bouteflika announced his intention to stand for another term, bringing tens of thousands to the streets in the capital Algiers and across the country.

Military ‘bastion of the people’, says army chief

Despite the president's reform pledges, Algerians have continued marching in huge numbers, many clutching humorous banners and waving their country's flags amid a festival atmosphere.

The demonstrations have been largely peaceful, with occasional clashes between a minority of stone-throwing young people and police on the sidelines.

On Monday, the country’s army chief promised that the military would remain "the bastion of the people and the nation".

"Everyone must show responsibility to find solutions as soon as possible," said Ahmed Gaid Salah, who is part of the president's inner circle.

During a visit to the southwest of the country, Gaid Salah said Algerians "have the abilities necessary to prevent their country from any situation [in which] it could be exploited by hostile foreign parties".

'External dangers'

Authorities have previously warned that the protests risk dragging Algeria into instability, comparing the rallies to those that sparked Syria's ongoing war.

Lakhdar Brahimi, a veteran Algerian diplomat and former UN envoy for Syria, on Monday denied references to turmoil in other countries was intended to scare protesters.

"We must be aware of the dangers that exist. Talking about Iraq or Syria is not an attempt to tell the population to hold still... we tell them to go ahead with their open eyes," he said in a national radio interview.

Brahimi called for structured and organised dialogue to take place as soon as possible. At the moment, he said, "there's a blockage, I hope that it's not a deadlock".

(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS)

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