ALGERIA

Algeria's army chief says dialogue is 'only way out of crisis'

Ryad Kramdi, AFP | General Ahmed Gaid Salah, 79, is one of Algeria's most influential power brokers.

General Ahmed Gaid Salah, Algeria's powerful army chief, called Wednesday for dialogue between protesters and state institutions, a day after pushing back against demonstrators' demands for top politicians to quit.

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Months of protests have led to the fall of Algeria’s longtime leader Abdelaziz Bouteflika, but demonstrators now demand the dismantling of an entrenched ruling elite, a shift towards more democracy and a crackdown on systemic corruption and cronyism.

"I remain entirely convinced that adopting constructive dialogue with the institutions of the state, is the only way to exit from the crisis," General Salah said in a statement published by the defence ministry.

This is "the wisest way to present constructive proposals, bring points of view closer and reach a consensus around the available solutions", he added.

The army remains the most powerful institution in Algeria, a major oil and natural gas producer, having swayed politics from the shadows for decades.

Salah was for years an ardent supporter of Bouteflika, until demanding on April 2 that impeachment proceedings be launched against the ailing leader -- who stepped down the same day.

An interim president has been put in place and elections set for July 4, but the protests that pushed Bouteflika from power have not abated.

On Wednesday hundreds of people rallied outside the General Workers' Union in the capital Algiers, marking May Day, where they clutched Algerians flags and shouted slogans against the "system".

Police prevented them from joining other protesters gathered outside the city's iconic post office, the focal point of demonstrations which began in February and have regularly drawn vast crowds.

Salah on Tuesday rebuffed calls by demonstrators for interim leader Abdelkader Bensalah, the former upper house speaker, and Prime Minister Noureddine Bedoui to step down.

In a speech, the army chief said the upcoming polls -- which fall within the timeframe allowed by the constitution -- amount to "the ideal solution to end the crisis".

Algeria's ruling National Liberation Front (FLN) party on Wednesday endorsed Salah's approach and called on protesters and opposition parties to pursue dialogue to end the crisis.

"We hail the army's leadership for its harmony with the people," newly-elected FLN leader Mohamed Djemai said in televised comments. "Dialogue is the only way to get out of this situation."

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, REUTERS)

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