With Bouteflika swept away by protests, Algeria looks to next steps

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Algeria is facing a new era after President Abdelaziz Bouteflika's resignation, including questions about what happens next for this gas-rich country and key Western ally in the fight against Islamist terrorism.


Bouteflika announced his resignation late on Tuesday after two decades at the helm, capitulating to weeks of massive protests aimed at pushing him and his inner circle from power.

Algeria's 12-member Constitutional Council formally accepted his resignation after a meeting on Wednesday, officially putting an end to Bouteflika's reign. National television earlier showed a frail Bouteflika handing his resignation letter to Constitutional Council president Tayeb Belaiz.

Under Algeria’s constitution, the speaker of the upper house of parliament, Abdelkader Bensalah, is due to take over as interim leader for 90 days while a presidential election is organised.

Bensalah, 76, is a member of the National Rally for Democracy (RND) – a party closely allied to Bouteflika’s National Liberation Front (FLN).

In recent weeks, while Bouteflika loyalists turned their backs on the president one by one, Bensalah had stood by the ailing leader.

Analysts warn that his appointment would be unlikely to appease protestors, who have been calling for an overhaul of the very political establishment Bensalah represents.

Algeria has transformed during the protests, with people shedding their fear of openly criticising the government and state media first ignoring and then, after a mutiny of reporters, covering the dissent.

Now in their sixth week, the protests were first triggered by Bouteflika's plan to seek a fifth mandate but then widened to include calls for a drastic change of Algeria’s political elite, seen as corrupt and secretive.

In a farewell statement on Wednesday, Bouteflik asked “forgiveness” of those whom he had inadvertently “failed in my duty despite my deep commitment to serve all Algerians and Algerians, without distinction or exclusivity”.

Going forward, he said, he hoped that the nation would continue to work towards “horizons of progress and prosperity by granting … special attention to young people and women to enable them to access political, parliamentary and administrative functions”.

Figure of the past

Bouteflika was key in the struggle to liberate Algeria from colonial power France in the 1950s at the age of just 19. Bouteflika is also widely credited with helping to end the crippling civil war – which pitted the army against Islamist insurgents – that killed some 200,000 people in the 1990s.

However, Bouteflika has been largely out of sight since he suffered a stroke in 2013 that confined him to a wheelchair and severely impaired his speech.

As they celebrated Bouteflika’s resignation in the streets of Algiers on Tuesday, flag-waving Algerians vowed to keep protesting to demand sweeping change to the country’s political system.

For 44-year-old engineer Hamid Boumaza, Bouteflika's resignation was "too little, too late".

"Bouteflika's departure is no longer enough. We want them all to go. We want full freedom and we will march for as long as necessary," he added.

Others paid tribute to the longtime leader, but regretted that he had clung to power for so long.

"Bouteflika worked. I voted for him at first, but he didn't know how to leave with his head held high," said Bilan Brahim, 40.

Calls for transition without 'foreign interference'

Foreign powers have called for a peaceful transition in the North African country, a key partner in the fight against jihadist extremists in the Sahel region.

France, the former colonial power, said Bouteflika's decision to step down marked the turning of "an important page in the history of Algeria".

"We are confident in the ability of all Algerians to continue this democratic transition in the same spirit of calm and responsibility" that has prevailed in recent weeks, said French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian.

The United States said the future of Algeria was now up to its people.

"Questions about how to navigate this transition in Algeria, that is for the Algerian people to decide," State Department spokesman Robert Palladino told reporters.

Russia, a longtime ally of Algeria, called for a transition without foreign "interference".

(FRANCE 24 with AP, AFP)

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