Thousands press for quick change in Algeria after Bouteflika concessions

ALGIERS: Thousands protested across Algeria on Tuesday, demanding immediate political changes a day after ailing President Abelaziz Bouteflika abandoned his bid for a fifth term in power but stopped short of stepping down.
Huge crowds gathered in several cities and Ennahar TV reported workers began a strike that paralysed operations at the Mediterranean port at Bejaia. Bouteflika, 82, bowed to weeks of mass demonstrations against his 20-year-old rule on Monday and promised a transition to a new leadership. But he postponed elections scheduled for April, meaning he will likely remain in power for some time.
Veteran Algerian diplomat Lakhdar Brahimi and protest groups will join a conference planning Algeria’s future, government and political sources said on Tuesday.
Brahimi, a former Algerian foreign minister and UN special envoy who is in his 80s, is expected to chair the conference that will oversee the transition, draft a new constitution and set the date for elections, a government source said.
Crowds who came back onto the streets on Tuesday demanded quicker action, reflecting suspicions that the old guard, adept at manipulating opposition groups, might be seeking to weaken and divide the protest movement.
“The whole system must disappear immediately. Our battle will continue,” 25-year-old student Noureddine Habi said in central Algiers as others chanted: “We want this system to go”.
More than a quarter of Algerians under 30 are unemployed.
“We do not need Bouteflika to decide on behalf of the people,” said 50 year-old-grocer Ahmed Beddine.
Algeria’s deputy prime minister said Boutiflika’s decision was the most important turning point since independence from France, Annahar TV reported.
“A competent government will be established, with the confidence of the participants in the national conference, which will supervise the presidential process,” said Ramtan Lamamra. French President Emmanuel Macron said Bouteflika’s statement opened a new chapter and called for a “reasonable duration” to the transition period.
“I think it’s a sign of maturity. We will do everything to accompany Algeria in this transition with friendship and respect.”
Algeria’s powerful military is expected to play a behind-the-scenes role during the transition and is currently considering several civilians as candidates for the presidency and other top positions, political sources said. One of them includes a prominent lawyer and activist Mustafa Bouchachi, who has gained a wide following on Facebook during the demonstrations. — Reuters