Algerian protesters step up demands for Bouteflika’s ouster

Tens of thousands of people joined protests in Algiers and other cities on Friday. (AP)
Updated 15 March 2019
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Algerian protesters step up demands for Bouteflika’s ouster

  • Demonstrators march through Algiers for fourth consecutive Friday
  • Bouteflika's move to cancel the vote prompted accusations of “tricks” and sparked a new round of demonstrations

ALGIERS: A huge crowd of demonstrators marched through the Algerian capital for a fourth consecutive Friday to step up demands for President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s ouster, rejecting his offer not to seek re-election.

With police standing back without intervening, protesters converged on Algiers’ landmark Grand Poste Square for the rally calling on the 82-year-old to step down after two decades in power.

Men, women and children gathered in a festive atmosphere, in numbers that appeared to match the previous week’s demonstration when tens of thousands took to the streets across the country, an AFP correspondent said.

Friday’s rally is the first major test of whether Bouteflika has calmed public anger with his surprise announcement on Monday that he would not seek a fifth term but was canceling an April presidential poll.

“You pretend to understand us, we will pretend to listen to you,” read a banner held aloft by the mostly young demonstrators.

Bouteflika had initially sparked joy among protesters when he said he would not stand again, but his move to cancel the vote prompted accusations of “tricks” and sparked a new round of demonstrations.

He has also named a new prime minister, replacing unpopular Premier Ahmed Ouyahia with former Interior Minister Noureddine Bedoui, who on Thursday defended the postponement of the poll.

Bouteflika, who uses a wheelchair and has rarely appeared in public since suffering a stroke in 2013, has promised a “national conference” to carry out reforms.

The president said that new elections would be held “before the end of 2019,” suggesting he may stay in office for another year.

Many demonstrators, with their banners, criticized the stand of France on the political crisis in Algeria, its former colony, accusing Paris of siding with Bouteflika.

“France, 132 years is enough, stop the interference,” read one banner, referring to the era of French rule before independence. “Macron, you are too small for today’s Algeria.”

French President Emmanuel Macron on Tuesday welcomed Bouteflika’s announcement but urged Algerian authorities to organize a “reasonable” transition from his rule.

Algeria has largely avoided the turmoil unleashed by the Arab Spring uprisings that brought down rulers in Tunisia and Libya.

But discontent, particularly among the young, turned to anger after the veteran leader announced on Feb. 10 that he would seek another term.

Demonstrations have brought tens of thousands onto the streets for each of the last three Fridays.

The protest movement has been led by students, in a country where half the population is under the age of 30 and youth unemployment has spurred anger against a government seen as out of touch.

Several demonstrators on Friday said they had traveled from the Kabylie area, 100 km east of Algiers, and spent the previous night with friends in the capital to avoid roadblocks or bus stoppages.

As at previous rallies after the weekly prayers, Algeria’s red-white-green flag fluttered from windows and balconies of buildings leading to the city center.

Algeria’s new Prime Minister Noureddine Bedoui on Thursday sought to calm tensions ahead of the new demonstrations that could prove decisive for the protest movement.

 

 

Bedoui warned at a news conference that the situation was “sensitive” in the North African country.

People “must show calm and act peacefully,” he said, calling for “dialogue” to resolve the situation.

Incoming Deputy Prime Minister Ramtane Lamamra has said that Bouteflika’s proposed national conference on political reforms should take place “as soon as possible..”

“The absolute priority is to reunite the Algerians and allow them to go together toward a better future,” he said. “It’s not about staying in power for a few weeks or a few months more.”

But El-Watan newspaper on Friday fired back with a “Get Out” message to the new leadership, charging Bedoui had “ducked the real questions” facing the country.

The assessment was also harsh on social media, with one commentator in a tweet sarcastically thanking Bedoui and Lamamra for their “efforts to keep Algerians mobilized” for Friday’s protests.

“Yesterday was the news conference of your prime minister and deputy premier, today is the news conference of the people,” another critic of the regime wrote on social media.


Palestinians say they weren’t consulted about US-led economic conference

Updated 8 min 56 sec ago
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Palestinians say they weren’t consulted about US-led economic conference

  • Palestinians boycotted the Trump administration since it recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital
  • Washington said the conference will unveil part of Trump’s peace deal
RAMALLAH: The Palestinians have not been consulted about a US-led conference in Bahrain next month designed to encourage international investment in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh said on Monday.
Washington announced the conference on Sunday, describing it as the unveiling of the first part of President Donald Trump’s long-awaited Israeli-Palestinian peace plan.
The Palestinians, who have boycotted the Trump administration since it recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in late 2017, have shown little interest in discussing the plan.
“The cabinet wasn’t consulted about the reported workshop, neither over the content, nor the outcome nor timing,” Shtayyeh told Palestinian ministers in the presence of reporters.
He did not immediately say whether Palestinians would attend the June 25-26 event in Manama, which US officials have predicted will include representatives and business executives from Europe, the Middle East and Asia, as well as some finance ministers.
Shtayyeh reiterated Palestinians’ core demands for a two-state peace deal with Israel, which include gaining full control of the occupied West Bank and Hamas-ruled Gaza, as well as East Jerusalem. Israel calls Jerusalem its indivisible capital and said it might declare sovereignty in its West Bank settlements.
The Trump administration has said its still-secret peace plan would require compromise by both sides. Since being shunned by the Palestinians, it has cut back on US aid for them, contributing to economic hardship in the West Bank and Gaza.
“The financial crisis the Palestinian Authority is living through today is a result of the financial war that is being launched against us in order to win political concessions,” Shtayyeh told the cabinet. “We do not submit to blackmail and we don’t trade our political rights for money.”