U.N. chief wants democratic transition in Algeria

2019-03-31 17:09:51

ALGIERS/TUNIS (Reuters) – 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.

FILE PHOTO: Police officers attempt to disperse demonstrators trying to force their way to the presidential palace during a protest calling on President Abdelaziz Bouteflika to quit, in Algiers, Algeria March 22, 2019. REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra

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”.

Tens of thousands have taken to the streets of Algiers for more than a month, saying they have had enough of the allegations of corruption, nepotism and economic mismanagement that have tarnished Bouteflika’s 20-year rule.

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

But his attempt to break the political impasse has failed to placate demonstrators, who reject military intervention in civilian matters and want to dismantle the entire ruling elite, which includes veterans of the war of independence against France, army officers, the ruling party and business tycoons.

Several close allies, including some members of the ruling FLN and union leaders, have abandoned Bouteflika, who has rarely appeared in public since suffering a stroke in 2013.

All private Algerian aircrafts are prohibited from departing from and landing in Algeria, a source close to the civil aviation authority and the private Ennahar television station said. It was not clear why the ban had been imposed.

Leading Algerian businessman Ali Haddad, who was part of Bouteflika’s inner circle, was arrested at the Tunisian border early on Sunday, a close associate said.

“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 fund Bouteflika’s election campaigns over the years.

Bouteflika announced on March 11 he was dropping plans for a fifth term but stopped short of stepping down immediately and said he would wait for a national conference on political change. That only further enraged protesters.

Two opposition leaders 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.

Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky and Susan Fenton


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