Algeria faces prospect of president seeking fifth term

Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika. (AFP)
Updated 22 July 2018
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Algeria faces prospect of president seeking fifth term

  • Half of Algeria’s 40-million population is now under the age of 30 and few young people remember the expectant days of their president’s first term
  • Algerians may have some wait ahead before he announces his candidacy

ALGIERS: With no clear successor to longtime President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, Algerians may well see their frail leader who rarely appears in public cling on for a fifth term in office.
When Bouteflika came to power in 1999, he won the backing of his conflict-weary citizens who credited him with bringing about reconciliation after a fierce civil war.
Nearly two decades on and with a presidential election scheduled for next year, the 81-year-old leader shows little sign of leaving office despite his ailing health.
“As long as God keeps him alive, Bouteflika will definitely seek a fifth term,” said Mohamed Hennad, political science professor at the University of Algiers.
There has been constant speculation about the health of the president — and even rumors of his death — who suffered a stroke in 2013 that saw him spend three months in a French hospital.
But Bouteflika surprised observers to win a fourth term in 2014, casting his vote from a wheelchair, and he is widely expected to appear on the 2019 ticket.
“All the external signs tend to show a very small group of very powerful people at the head of the Algerian state, in favor of the re-election of the current president,” said Pierre Vermeren, contemporary history professor at the Pantheon Sorbonne University in Paris.

One possible successor, national police chief Abdelghani Hamel, was last month ejected from the president’s inner circle.
The sacking of Hamel was intended to curb the official’s ambitions, according to a diplomat based in the capital Algiers.
“It’s the housekeeping before the election,” the foreign envoy said.
The move is similar to reshuffles within the powerful intelligence services just months ahead of the 2014 election, in which Bouteflika clinched 81.5 percent of the vote despite being absent from the campaign trail.
Politicians have already been preparing for a fifth term under Bouteflika, with the secretary general of his National Liberation Front (FLN) in April asking him to run.
Last month, Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia said his Rally for National Democracy (RND) party would support the president “continuing his mission and his sacrifice in the service of Algeria.”
One fierce critic of Bouteflika’s decision to stay in power, New Generation (Jil Jadid) party president Soufiane Djilali, accused the presidential camp of trying to “neutralize other potential candidates.”
There is “no doubt that President Bouteflika wants to finish his days in power,” he said.
Possible opponents such as religious groups or political parties have been “totally marginalized,” according to historian Vermeren who said there is “no counter-power to the state leadership.”

Algerians may have some wait ahead before he announces his candidacy, which the president did just two months before the last poll.
Although those wary of a political overhaul, after a fourth term marred by social and economic hardships, may decide to steer clear of the polls entirely.
The last presidential election saw a 50-percent abstention rate and it could reach a record high in 2019, with Algerians suffering from falling oil prices and youth unemployment at 30 percent.
Half of Algeria’s 40-million population is now under the age of 30 and few young people remember the expectant days of their president’s first term.
Nonetheless, from the University of Algiers, Hennad regard Bouteflika stepping aside voluntarily as an “improbable hypothesis.”
There is only one alternative, the academic said: “If he is declared unfit before the vote; unthinkable at the moment.”


Work underway to clear land mines from Jesus baptism site

Updated 10 December 2018
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Work underway to clear land mines from Jesus baptism site

  • Work at the site just north of the Dead Sea is being overseen by Israel’s Defense Ministry
  • Mines and other ordnance have been cleared from Ethiopian and Greek Orthodox monastery sites, organizers said

QASR AL-YAHUD, Palestinian Territories: Efforts to clear thousands of land mines and other ordnance around the site where many believe Jesus was baptized have reached a milestone and officials allowed a rare glimpse Sunday of abandoned churches there.

The church grounds around the site in the occupied West Bank have sat empty and decaying for around 50 years, though pilgrims have been able to visit a nearby restricted area at the traditional baptismal spot on the banks of the River Jordan.

Work at the site just north of the Dead Sea is being overseen by Israel’s Defense Ministry, de-mining charity Halo Trust and Israeli firm 4CI.

According to the ministry, the project covers around 1 square kilometer (250 acres) as well as some 3,000 mines and other explosive remnants.

It is expected to cost 20 million shekels ($5.3 million, €4.7 million).

The work began in March and would require another eight months to a year to complete, said Moshe Hilman of Israel’s Defense Ministry.

Mines and other ordnance have been cleared from Ethiopian and Greek Orthodox monastery sites as well as a Franciscan chapel, organizers said.

Other grounds belonging to Russian, Syrian, Romanian and Coptic Orthodox churches are yet to be cleared.

The plan once complete is to return the plots to the various church denominations and allow visits. At the crumbling, brick-and-concrete Ethiopian monastery on Sunday, a fading fresco of Jesus being baptized by John the Baptist could still be seen inside.

Signs hung on the walls with notifications that the location had been cleared of explosives.

A collection of pieces of mortars and other explosive remnants sat alongside a nearby roadside as a demonstration of some of what had been found.

“The Halo Trust has reached a pivotal point in our work to clear the baptism site of land mines and other remnants of war,” the charity’s CEO James Cowan said in a statement.

He added that “we have completed clearance of the Ethiopian, Greek and Franciscan churches.”

The majority of the mines were laid by Israeli forces after the country seized control of the West Bank in 1967 from Jordanian troops. Other unexploded ordnance from both Israel and Jordan has remained lodged in the ground, including around the churches, which were evacuated by Israel in the 1970s.

Israel’s control of the West Bank has never been recognized by the international community, which considers the land occupied Palestinian territory.