Thousands rally in Algiers as protest leaders tell army to stay away

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Thousands of students and doctors rallied in Algiers on Tuesday calling for President Abdelaziz Bouteflika to quit, as a new group headed by activists and opposition figures told the powerful army not to interfere in the campaign.

In the first direct message to the army from leaders emerging from mass protests against Bouteflika, the National Coordination for Change said the military should “play its constitutional role without interfering in the people choice.”

Students massed in the center of the capital while doctors began a protest march nearby. "We will not stop our pressure until he (Bouteflika) goes," said student Ali Adjimi, 23.

Generals have traditionally wielded power from behind the scenes in Algeria but have stepped in during pivotal moments.

In 1992, the army cancelled elections an Islamist party was set to win, triggering a long civil war that killed an estimated 200,000 people. Soldiers have stayed in their barracks throughout the recent unrest.

In a statement titled “Platform of Change” and issued late on Monday, the organization demanded the Bouteflika should step down before the end of his term on April 28 and the government resign immediately.

Algerian authorities have always been adept at manipulating a weak and disorganized opposition.

But more than three weeks of demonstrations - which peaked on Friday with hundreds of thousands of people on the streets of Algiers - have emboldened well-known figures to lead the drive for reforms in the North African country.

Prominent members of the new group include lawyer and activist Mustapha Bouchachi, opposition leader Karim Tabou and former treasury minister Ali Benouari, as well as Mourad Dhina and Kamel Guemazi, who belong to an outlawed Islamist party.

Zoubida Assoul, leader of a small political party, is the only woman in the group so far.

Bouteflika, rarely seen in public since a stroke in 2013, has failed to ease anger on the streets by reversing a decision to seek a fifth term, postponing an election and planning a conference that will chart a new political future.

But he stopped short of stepping down, and effectively prolonged his fourth term.

“Bouteflika just trampled on the constitution after he decided to extend his fourth term,” said the National Coordination for Change.

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