Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika resigned on Tuesday announcing he was standing down in a statement carried by state news agency APS, shortly after the army chief of staff demanded immediate action to remove him from office he held for two decades.
Bouteflika “officially advised the Constitutional Council of the end of his term of office as President of the Republic” from Tuesday, said a news ticker on the television.
The Defense Ministry had said “there is no more time to waste” after six weeks of nationwide protests against the chief of state and his inner circle.
The ministry’s statement was issued hours after Algeria’s powerful army chief, Vice Defense Minister Gen. Ahmed Gaid Salah, presided over a meeting with senior army officials to discuss implementing a procedure in the constitution for removing a sitting president.
“Our decision is clear and irrevocable. We will support the people until their demands are fully and completely satisfied,” Gaid Salah said in the statement.
It came one day after Bouteflika said he would resign by the end of his fourth term on April 28, capitulating to growing calls for his resignation.
Heading the meeting in the headquarters of the People’s National Armed Forces, Salah rejected any decisions related to the transitional phase issued by non-constitutional parties.
His comment was in response to a statement issued on Monday, reportedly from Bouteflika, which Salah claims is “from unconstitutional and unauthentic parties.”
The Lieutenant General also said that the army supports the demands of the people and their legitimate aspirations, assuring that the people are the only source of authority and that the army will protect them.
The 82-year-old president has rarely been seen in public since he suffered a stroke in 2013. In the meeting, Gaid Salah said a “gang” surrounds the president and writes all the statements in his name, according to the ministry statement.
But, fueling fears that he intended to install a hand-picked successor, the short Monday statement from Bouteflika’s office said he would take “important steps to ensure the continuity of the functioning of state institutions” before he leaves the office he assumed in 1999.
The announcement by Bouteflika that he would stand down before April 28 fell flat with protesters and opposition figures, who said it didn’t go far enough in creating dramatic change to Algeria’s secretive power structure.
Gaid Salah, signaled he was turning against the president last month amid the mass protests over Bouteflika’s 20-year rule. Gaid Salah proposed starting the procedure to have Bouteflika declared unfit for office, prompted allegations he was plotting a coup.
He kept his position in a new government named on Sunday, though it was unclear why.
Bouteflika’s office said only Monday that the president would take “important steps” to ensure the continuity of Algeria’s institutions, fueling fears that Bouteflika’s entourage was seeking to cement its hold on power.
The Algerian Constitution calls for the head of the upper house of parliament, Bouteflika ally Abdelkader Bensalah, to act as an interim leader for a maximum of 90 days while an election is organized.
It remains uncertain what will happen next in Algeria’s fast-changing political crisis, which is largely happening behind closed doors.
People celebrate on the streets after Algeria’s President Abdelaziz Bouteflika has submitted his resignation, in Algiers on April 2, 2019. (Reuters)
Protests calling for Bouteflika to resign have intensified since the first one February 22. He first was elected in 1999 and planned to seek a fifth term next month.
He postponed the election in response to the protests and said he would not run for re-election.
Students held more protests in central Algiers on Tuesday, and demonstrators are already planning for another nationwide action on Friday.
But his opponents fear that will pave the way for a hand-picked successor instead of a truly democratic transfer of power.
Algerians celebrate departure of Bouteflika
Hundreds of Algerians took to the streets of the capital late on Tuesday to celebrate the departure of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika after 20 years of power, residents said.
Young people were waving Algerian flags or driving in convoys through the city centre, where on Feb. 22 mass protests broke out against the veteran ruler.
“"Allahu Akbar (God is Great),” shouted a man on a live television broadcast.
The future of Algeria is up to its people, the United States said on Tuesday, after veteran president Abdelaziz Bouteflika resigned under pressure from the military.
“Questions about how to navigate this transition in Algeria, that is for the Algerian people to decide,” State Department spokesman Robert Palladino told reporters.
France’s foreign minister said he was confident Algerians would continue their democratic transition in a “calm and responsible” way after President Bouteflika announced his resignation.
“This is an important page in the history of Algeria that turns,” Jean-Yves Le Drian said in a statement. “We are confident in the ability of all Algerians to continue this democratic transition in the same spirit of calm and responsibility.”
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