Algerian PM to resign, paving way for vote after protracted protests

Noureddine Bedoui’s departure is intended to ‘facilitate’ the holding of elections. The crisis has left major oil and gas-exporter Algeria in a constitutional deadlock. (Reuters)
Updated 11 September 2019

Algerian PM to resign, paving way for vote after protracted protests

  • Military urges electoral commission to call election by Sunday

ALGIERS: Algerian Prime Minister Noureddine Bedoui will resign soon to pave the way for elections this year that the army sees as the only way to end a standoff over months of protests, two senior sources told Reuters on Tuesday.

Bedoui’s departure is a major demand of protesters, who in April forced president Abdelaziz Bouteflika to quit after 20 years in office, and who have rejected fresh elections until there is a more thorough change of the power structure.

Bedoui’s departure is intended to “facilitate” the holding of elections said the two senior officials, speaking on condition they were not further identified.

Powerful army chief Lieut. Gen. Ahmed Gaed Saleh said last week that the electoral commission should by Sept. 15 call an election, a move that would trigger a 90-day countdown to the vote.

Students holding a weekly protest on Tuesday chanted that they would accept no elections “until the gang is removed,” a reference to Bouteflika’s power circle, an elite entrenched largely since independence from France in 1962.

Sources close to prominent figures including former Prime Minister Mouloud Hamrouche and human rights lawyer Mustapha Bouchachi have said they are considering running for president if the election is called.

The mass demonstrations began in February and have continued since Bouteflika’s departure, with the loose-knit “Herak” movement demanding that all figures associated with him also leave and that the army play a smaller role in state affairs.

The election had been scheduled for July, but was postponed as a result of the crisis, leaving major oil and gas-exporter Algeria in a constitutional deadlock.

Over the summer the authorities have made concessions by arresting more prominent figures linked to Bouteflika on corruption charges, while increasing the pressure on protesters with a bigger police presence at demonstrations.

However, Herak has no formal leaders, making it hard to negotiate with. “We will not stop protests, this is our chance to uproot the corrupt system,” Khelifa Saad, 20, said at a protest on Tuesday in Algiers.

Two sources familiar with former PM Hamrouche said he was expected to run for president, though he has made no formal announcement yet.

Hamrouche, 76, headed the government from 1989-91, departing months before the military canceled a 1992 parliamentary election that an Islamic party was poised to win, plunging Algeria into a civil war that claimed 200,000 lives.

A candidate in the 1999 presidential election, he withdrew at the last minute after senior figures endorsed Bouteflika.

Hamrouche presents himself as a reformer, seeking better governance and economic diversification, and as a consensus choice, and would seek the support of the army, the formal opposition and protesters.

Two sources from inside Bouchachi’s circle said he would run if Bouteflika’s close allies were removed from power and an independent body set up to oversee the vote.

Bouchachi, a 65-year-old former member of Parliament, human rights activist and lawyer, has been prominent on social media after strongly backing protesters since February.

He was elected to Parliament in 2012 as a member of Algeria’s oldest opposition party Front des Forces Socialistes (FFS), but resigned within two years saying the government was not serious about reform.

“Bouchachi can secure the voices of tens of thousands of protesters,” said electronics student Ali Larbaoui, who has marched on most Fridays since the protests began.

Another former Prime Minister Ahmed Benbitour, 73, who resigned in 1999 after opposing Bouteflika’s economic policy, is also considering a presidential run, one of his supporters said.

The crisis has hit Algeria’s economy, with official data showing that one in four of the under-30s, who form 70 percent of the population, is unemployed.

Meanwhile foreign currency reserves, built up during periods of higher oil prices, are falling.


Iran warns of lengthy ‘new way of life’ as virus deaths rise

An Iranian army soldier walks through a temporary hospital in Tehran, Iran, Thursday, March 26, 2020. (AP)
Updated 30 March 2020

Iran warns of lengthy ‘new way of life’ as virus deaths rise

  • Without an official lockdown in place, the government has repeatedly urged Iranians to stay home “as much as possible”

TEHRAN: President Hassan Rouhani has warned that “the new way of life” in Iran was likely to be prolonged, as its declared death toll from the novel coronavirus rose to 2,640.
Iran is one of the countries worst-hit by the virus, which first originated in China.
Iran announced its first infection cases on Feb. 19, but a senior health official has acknowledged that the virus was likely to have already reached Iran in January.
At his daily news briefing, health ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour said 123 more people in Iran had died from the virus in the past 24 hours.
He reported 2,901 new cases of COVID-19 infection, bringing the overall number of officially confirmed cases to 38,309.
According to the official, 12,391 of those hospitalized have recovered and 3,467 are in “critical” condition.
“We must prepare to live with this virus until a treatment or vaccine is discovered, which has not yet happened to date,” President Hassan Rouhani said in a Cabinet meeting.
“The new way of life we have adopted” is to everyone’s benefit, he said, adding that “these changes will likely have to stay in place for some time.”
After weeks of refraining from imposing lockdown or quarantine measures, Tehran decided Wednesday to ban all intercity travel until at least April 8.
Without an official lockdown in place, the government has repeatedly urged Iranians to stay home “as much as possible.” Schools and universities in some provinces were closed in late February and the measure was later extended to the whole country.
After Rouhani’s warning, the reopening of schools following this year’s new year holidays of March 19 to April 3 appears unlikely.

FASTFACT

Iran announced its first infection cases on Feb. 19, but a senior health official has acknowledged that the virus was likely to have already reached Iran in January

On a positive note, Rouhani said he had been told by top health experts and doctors that “in some provinces we have passed the peak (of the epidemic) and are on a downward trajectory.”
Several Iranian government officials and notable figures have been infected by the new coronavirus, some of whom have died.
The most recent case of infection was Mohammed-Reza Khatami, brother of former president Mohammad Khatami and an ex-deputy speaker of parliament.
He is currently hospitalized.
Iraj Harirchi, a deputy health minister who tested positive for the virus in late February, has returned to public life and appeared on state television to emphasize safety precautions.