Algerian Crisis President Appoints Caretaker Government Amid Turmoil

 

Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika named a caretaker cabinet yesterday, as he grapples with a political crisis following weeks of protests demanding he end his 20-year rule.

Serving Prime Minister Noureddine Bedoui will head the administration, private Ennahar TV reported.

Seeking to defuse the demonstrations, Bouteflika had said on March 11 he was dropping plans for a fifth term. But he stopped short of stepping down immediately, to wait for a national conference on political change. This further enraged protesters.

Algeria’s army chief of staff, Lieutenant General Ahmed Gaed Salah, renewed a call on Saturday for the Constitutional Council to rule on whether the ailing 82-year-old Bouteflika was fit to rule, opening up the possibility of a managed exit.

Salah kept his position as deputy defense minister in the reshuffle, state TV reported. Bouteflika, who has rarely appeared in public since suffering a stroke in 2013, kept his title as defense minister.

Demonstrators have rejected military intervention in civilian matters and want to dismantle the entire ruling elite, which includes veterans from the war of independence against France, army officers, the ruling party and business tycoons.

Tens of thousands have taken to the streets of Algiers for more than a month, complaining of corruption, nepotism and economic mismanagement which they say has tarnished Bouteflika’s 20-year rule.

But two opposition leaders have supported the army initiative.

“The merit of this approach is that it responds to a pressing popular demand,” Ali Benflis, a former head of the ruling FLN party, said in a party statement. “We are facing a political, constitutional and institutional crisis.”

Abderazak Makri, head of an Islamist party, said he was against anything that threatened the stability and unity of the country or undermined the military.

Several close allies, including some members of the ruling FLN and union leaders, have abandoned Bouteflika.

Political sources said the appointment of a caretaker government might be a signal that Bouteflika could resign, given pressure from the military and protesters.

The U.N. Secretary-General said on Sunday he welcomed efforts toward a peaceful and democratic transition in Algeria.

Addressing an Arab League summit in Tunis, Antonio Guterres said any steps should be made in a way “that addresses the concerns of the Algerian people in a timely way”.

Meanwhile, a leading Algerian businessman Ali Haddad, who was part of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s inner circle, has been arrested at the Tunisian border, a close associate said on Sunday, as pressure mounted on the long-standing leader to resign.

During weeks of protests demanding an end to his 20-year rule, Bouteflika has been abandoned by several close allies but there have been no reports of any prominent supporters being arrested before Haddad.

Demonstrators in the North African country, an oil and gas producer, want a new generation of leaders to replace a ruling elite which comprises veterans of the independence war against France, ruling party officials, oligarchs, army officers and union leaders.

“Yes, Haddad has been arrested,” his associate told Reuters on condition of anonymity, without elaborating.

Several Algerian television stations broadcast news on the detention of Haddad, a media magnate who helped to fund Bouteflika’s election campaigns over the years.

The U.N. Secretary-General said on Sunday he welcomed efforts towards a peaceful and democratic transition in Algeria, where weeks of protests have pushed for President Abdelaziz Bouteflika to go.

Addressing an Arab League summit in Tunis, Antonio Guterres said any steps should be made in a way “that addresses the concerns of the Algerian people in a timely way”.

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