Algerians bemused as Bouteflika pulls out of presidential race, postpones election

Algerians bemused as Bouteflika pulls out of presidential race, postpones election

Algerians bemused as Bouteflika pulls out of presidential race, postpones election

Ms Northey said that given the scale of the protests against Mr Bouteflika's fifth term, it was important he had ruled himself out.

The decision to run for a new term in the April 18 election angered large swathes of Algerian society. That could leave him in power indefinitely.

The official APS news agency confirmed that the president had returned home "after a private visit to Geneva. during which he underwent periodic medical tests".

Bouteflika was hailed as a savior when he assumed office in 1999, at the end of Algeria's brutal civil war.

But his promise on Monday of a "national conference" to carry out reform and set a date for new elections "before the end of 2019" suggested he may stay in office for another year. It's been an unusual public outpouring for a country tightly controlled by the security services.

Bouteflika, who rarely has been seen in public since he suffered a stroke in 2013, arrived at a military airport near Boufarik, about 20 miles south of Algiers, and was shown by private television station Ennahar in a fast-moving convoy heading toward the suburb of Zeralda where he lives. They're also angry at what's seen as a corrupt and out-of-touch power structure that has grown rich under Bouteflika while millions see little gain from the country's gas wealth. Should the election process descend further into chaos, it is possible that the military will step in, akin to the Egyptian military's action during the country's 2011 protests.

At the height of the protests, he told young people at a university that Algeria needed an entirely new political system, El Watan newspaper reported. More demonstrations involving a broader swath of the population are scheduled Thursday and Friday, in what might amount to a key test of whether the protest movement will prevail.

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President Bouteflika's decision to stand had provoked mass protests across Algeria over the past few weeks.

An election due to take place on April 18 will be postponed, an interim government formed and a committee appointed to draft a new constitution.

Brahimi, a former foreign minister and United Nations special envoy, is expected to chair the conference, the source told Reuters.

The former prime minister, who has joined the opposition, said in an online video that the president was "prolonging his fourth mandate", calling it "an act of aggression against the constitution".

The protests have shattered years of political inertia and unsettled Algeria's opaque but powerful security establishment.

French President Emmanuel Macron said Bouteflika's decision opened a new chapter and called for a "reasonable duration" to the transition period.

Critics fear the moves could pave the way for the president to install a hand-picked successor.

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