Algeria’s Bouteflika says he won’t stand for 5th term

Aomar Ouali
Associated Press

Algiers, Algeria – Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika bowed to unprecedented public protests Monday and promised not to seek a fifth term after 20 years in power.

In a letter to the nation released by state news agency APS, the ailing leader also said the presidential election scheduled for April 18 would be postponed. He promised to appoint a new leadership structure to plan a rescheduled vote.

Bouteflika, who is 82, has barely been seen in public since a 2013 stroke. His decision to run again set off protests in February and have expanded to include broader complaints about corruption and heavy-handed security policies.

The president returned Sunday from two weeks in a Geneva hospital, but the exact state of his health remains unclear.

But Bouteflika pledged to appoint a new government and a separate “national conference” tasked with rescheduling the election and drafting a new constitution.

Critics said they fear the moves could pave the way for the president to install a hand-picked successor.

A wily political survivor, Bouteflika fought in Algeria’s independence war against French forces and has played a role in Algeria’s major developments for the past half-century.

He became president in 1999 and reconciled a nation riven by a deadly Islamic insurgency, but questions swirl over whether he is really running the country today.

The recent protests surprised Algeria’s opaque leadership and freed the country’s people, long fearful of a watchful security apparatus, to openly criticize the president.

Algerians also expressed anger over corruption that put their country’s oil and gas riches in the hands of a few while millions of young people struggle to find jobs.

The unprecedented citizens’ revolt drew millions into the streets of cities across the country to demand that Bouteflika abandon his candidacy.

On Monday, Algerian teenagers and lawyers held protests, and workers held scattered walkouts, as the tense nation waited to see what concessions Bouteflika would give, if any.

His capitulation on a re-election bid likely will assuage some concerns.

Security was high Monday in the capital of Algiers, where some businesses were shuttered by a second day of strikes. Other stores and administrative offices remained open.

Middle school and high school students held protests in several towns, according to local media. Education Minister Nouria Bengahbrit appealed on her Facebook page for protesters to “leave schools out of political turbulence” shaking the country.

Meanwhile, lawyers in black robes gathered in front of courthouses to join calls for Bouteflika to abandon his bid for re-election. Some judges joined a lawyers’ protest in the city of Bedjaia.

Judges are normally banned from publicly demonstrating, as are police officers and soldiers.

Thomas Adamson and Angela Charlton in Paris contributed.