The Debate - After Bouteflika: Will Algeria protests force out old guard?

The Debate - After Bouteflika: Will Algeria protests force out old guard?

Algerians took to the streets of the capital Algiers Tuesday to protest against President Abdelaziz Bouteflika's decision to delay presidential elections indefinitely.

Bouteflika, in power since 1999, has rarely been seen in public since suffering a stroke in 2013.

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.

Sources told Reuters a conference on "planning Algeria's future" will be held soon, chaired by former foreign minister and United Nations special envoy Lakhdar Brahimi. He said this would calm tensions, allow the country to move forward along a path of "serene, calm and public security", and let Algerian institutions "prepare as quickly as possible for the advent of a new era in Algeria".

Celebrations popped up instead of protests on the streets of the capital, Algiers, at the news the president had dropped his re-election bid.

The New York Times quoted former communication minister Abdelaziz Rahabi's dire prognosis: "Bouteflika is not running, but he's going to remain as president beyond April 2019".

Contacts are now underway with war veterans who may take part in the transition, including Djamila Bouhired and Zohra Drif Bitat, two of the most famous guerrilla fighters of the conflict, political sources said.

"It's one small battle won", said Yasmine Bouchene, of the collective Les Jeunes Engagés (Activist Youth).

Algerians have shown they are no longer willing to accept the status quo, and that will undoubtedly extend to close scrutiny of how the next election plays out.

Former colonial ruler France welcomed Bouteflika's decision. The conference will supposedly draft a new constitution and reschedule the election.

"We are now dealing with a president so eager to cling on power that he will stay in office until a date nobody knows", the 30-year-old manager added. Nearby, other young Algerians made V-for-victory signs.

Bouteflika announced his decision a day after returning home from Switzerland, where he had been receiving medical care since late February.

'The students are resisting the extension of the fourth mandate, ' they chanted in an Algiers square that has been the epicentre of protests demanding Bouteflika resign.

Calls were also put out for demonstrations to be held nationwide on Friday.

The protests trickled down to middle-schoolers and high-schoolers, with several hundred marching in the center of Algiers, also calling for Bouteflika to withdraw his candidacy.

Bouteflika oversaw the end of the conflict but under his rule power was concentrated in the hands of a secretive military-based establishment known to Algerians as "le pouvoir" - the powers-that-be.

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