Algeria’s President Bouteflika says he will not stand for fifth term and postpones election

Algeria's President Abdelaziz Bouteflika withdrew from a bid to win another term in office and postponed an April 18 election. (AP file photo)
Updated 12 March 2019
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Algeria’s President Bouteflika says he will not stand for fifth term and postpones election

  • Algerians take to the streets in celebration
  • Former colonial power France on Monday welcomed the president’s decision

ALGIERS: Algeria’s ailing President Abdelaziz Bouteflika announced Monday he is dropping his bid for a fifth term in office, scrapping the upcoming elections altogether after weeks of protests against his candidacy.
“Peacefully, we have overthrown the puppet!” people sang in Algiers following the president’s decision.
Celebratory honking of car horns rang out in the city center, as Algerians waved their national flags on streets deserted by police.
“There will not be a fifth term” and “there will be no presidential election on April 18,” Bouteflika announced in a message carried by the official APS news agency.
The veteran leader said he was responding to “a pressing demand that you have been numerous in making to me.”
Demonstrations against Bouteflika’s bid for another term have brought tens of thousands of protesters onto the streets for each of the last three Fridays, with smaller demonstrations taking place on other days.
The president vowed “to hand over the duties and prerogatives of the president of the republic to the successor freely chosen by the Algerian people,” but gave no date for new elections.
In a broader political shake-up, interior minister Noureddine Bedoui replaced the unpopular Ahmed Ouyahia as prime minister and has been tasked with forming a new government, according to APS.
Bouteflika, whose rare public appearances since he suffered a stroke in 2013 have been in a wheelchair, returned to Algeria on Sunday after spending two weeks at a hospital in Switzerland.
Former colonial power France on Monday welcomed the president’s decision to not stand for a fifth term.
“France expresses its hope that a new dynamic that can answer the deep aspirations of the Algerian people will rapidly take hold,” Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said.
Although credited with helping foster peace after Algeria’s decade-long civil war, Bouteflika has faced criticism for alleged authoritarianism.
Fatiha Benabou, a constitutional rights expert at the University of Algiers, said there was “no legal basis to postpone the elections.”
“In the case of a political crisis, the Algerian constitution is partially ineffective,” she said.
Journalists, lawyers and students had taken part in protests against Bouteflika’s re-election bid, and on Monday barristers across the country joined the strike action.
They demanded the Constitutional Council reject the 82-year-old’s candidacy on grounds of his “incapacity” to carry out the role.
Bouteflika’s return from hospital in Geneva came as protest strikes Sunday shut down the capital’s public transport system and many schools across Algeria.
The president had left Algeria on February 24 for what the presidency described as “routine medical checks.”

Since the breakout of protests last month, Algeria’s army chief, Ahmed Gaid Salah, has pledged to guarantee national security and criticized those he said want to return to the “painful years” of the civil war of the 1990s.
Bouteflika became president in 1999, and he has clung on to power despite his ill health.
When the Arab Spring uprisings erupted across the Middle East and North Africa, Bouteflika’s regime smothered dissent and played on fears of a repeat of Algeria’s civil war.
His government lifted a 19-year state of emergency, granted pay rises and announced piecemeal political reforms.
But those reforms, announced in “a climate of fear,” were shelved once the situation was brought under control, a European diplomat said.
Little by little, Bouteflika returned the regime to its authoritarian ways.
He was elected for a fourth term in April 2014 with 81.5 percent of the vote, despite not campaigning.
Bouteflika has a history of medical problems and has often flown to France or Switzerland for treatment.


UN agency to donors: Back Palestine efforts anew, keep funding at 2018 levels

The UN Relief and Works Agency provides food assistance to 1 million people in Gaza every three months, which is half of the area’s population. (AFP)
Updated 19 March 2019
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UN agency to donors: Back Palestine efforts anew, keep funding at 2018 levels

  • ‘Exceptional’ contributions enabled the UN Relief and Works Agency to fund its entire 2018 budget of $1.2 billion
  • ‘Countries that supported us last year I would say were extremely proud to contribute to the solution’

UNITED NATIONS: The head of the UN agency that helps 5.3 million Palestinian refugees on Monday urged donors who filled a $446 million hole in its budget last year after the Trump administration drastically cut the US contribution to be equally generous this year.
“Last year we had an extraordinary crisis and an out of the ordinary response,” Pierre Krahenbuhl said in an interview with The Associated Press. “Our humble request to all the donors is: Please keep your funding levels at the same level as 2018.”
He said he has been thanking donors for their “exceptional” contributions that enabled the UN Relief and Works Agency to fund its entire 2018 budget of $1.2 billion.
Krahenbuhl said the agency, known as UNRWA, also adopted a $1.2 billion budget for 2019, and this year it is getting nothing from the United States. Last year, the Trump administration gave $60 million, a dramatic reduction from the $360 million it provided in 2017, when the United States was the agency’s largest donor.
US President Donald Trump said in January 2018 that the Palestinians must return to peace talks to receive US aid money — a comment that raised alarm from leaders of 21 international humanitarian groups, who protested that the administration’s link between aid and political objectives was “dangerous.”
Krahenbuhl said the campaign that UNRWA launched immediately after the US slashed its contribution succeeded as a result of “very important donations,” starting with the European Union, which became the agency’s biggest donor. He said 40 countries and institutions increased funding to UNRWA, including Germany, United Kingdom, Sweden, Japan, Canada and Australia. Qatar, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Kuwait each gave $50 million, he said.
“Countries that supported us last year I would say were extremely proud to contribute to the solution,” Krahenbuhl said.
Last year, he said, the number of multi-year funding agreements with donors rose to 19.
So UNRWA right now is in “a somewhat better position” than it was last year, with a shortfall of just over $200 million, Krahenbuhl said.
So far this year, the agency has received $245 million and is expecting $100 million more, he said, which means it should be financially OK until about May.
“But from then on we’ll start to ... reach some crisis points,” Krahenbuhl said.
He said UNRWA is thinking about holding some events in the next two or three months “to collectively mobilize the donor community.” In June, he said, there will be a pledging conference at which the UN and donors will take stock of the agency’s financial situation.
Krahenbuhl said he is committed to making up for the $60 million that UNRWA is losing from the United States this year through internal cost saving measures to reduce the agency’s expenditures.
“That’s going to hurt, but that’s where we feel our financial responsibility, so that we preserve the trust that was generated by the level of donors,” he said, noting that UNRWA last year saved $92 million.
Krahenbuhl said donors recognize the agency does important work. He pointed to the 280,000 boys and girls in UNRWA schools in Gaza and the food assistance the agency provides to 1 million people there every three months. “That’s half of Gaza’s population,” he said.
The UNRWA chief also said that continuing the agency’s services to Palestinian refugees in Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Gaza and elsewhere in the Mideast “is in everybody’s interest” and important for stability in the region.
“If you take Gaza right now ... it’s continuously at the razor’s edge,” Krahenbuhl said, stressing that any shift in humanitarian assistance or conditions that people live in “can trigger the need for justification, or the excuse ... to go back to war.”
Noting his own experience in the 2014 war between Israel and Hamas, which controls Gaza, Krahenbuhl said, “this is absolutely devastating and needs to be avoided.”