Algiers: Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s offer of a new constitution and a truncated next term has so far failed to satisfy protesters, who faced off with riot police overnight and want their longtime leader out of office now.
Crowds of mainly young protesters demonstrated in Algiers late Sunday and early Monday after Bouteflika’s campaign manager formalised the president’s candidacy for a fifth term in an April 18 election.
Demonstrations were also held in other cities against another term for Bouteflika, who has barely been seen in public since a 2013 stroke and is facing protests over his leadership.
Responding to Algeria’s biggest protest movement in years, Bouteflika said Sunday in a statement that if he’s re-elected, he would hold a referendum on a new constitution and call an early election in which he wouldn’t run.
He also promised to fight endemic corruption, better distribute Algeria’s wealth — which is heavily dependent on natural gas — and create better opportunities for Algerians who risk their lives to try to migrate across the Mediterranean to Europe.
“I am resolute: If God wants and the Algerian people give me its trust, I will take the challenge of changing the regime,” Bouteflika wrote in a statement read on national television by campaign chief Abdelghani Zaalane.
But protesters don’t want Bouteflika to run at all in the April 18 vote, and described the offer as a ploy to remain in power. Opposition parties are holding meetings Monday to decide the next steps after Bouteflika’s announcement.
Questions are swirling around who is actually running the country — the 82-year-old Bouteflika or a coterie of powerful aides and generals. His campaign chief submitted Bouteflika’s candidacy Sunday, instead of the president himself, who was in Switzerland last week for medical tests.
Mystery around Bouteflika’s whereabouts and doubts about his fitness for office prompted the Algerian ambassador to France to insist Monday that “of course he is alive.”
“He’s the one who is deciding, not the system,” Ambassador Abdelkader Mesdoua said on France’s CNews television.
“Obviously he isn’t in the same health condition as when he was [when he was] 20, but he has the full mind he had when he was 20. ... He is physically diminished and I think this will certainly be his last battle, the final battle of his life to allow this generational transition for Algeria.”
Bouteflika was first elected in 1999 and is credited with reconciling the country after a decade of civil war between Islamist insurgents and security forces that left around 200,000 dead.