Algeria’s Bouteflika ends 20-year rule after mass protests

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People celebrate on the streets after Algeria's President Abdelaziz Bouteflika has submitted his resignation, in Algiers, Algeria April 2, 2019. REUTERS/Ramzi Boudina
People celebrate on the streets after Algeria’s President Abdelaziz Bouteflika has submitted his resignation, in Algiers, Algeria April 2, 2019. REUTERS/Ramzi Boudina

Algeria’s President Abdelaziz Bouteflika stepped down late Tuesday after weeks of mass protests, state media reported.

The ailing 82-year-old leader announced his resignation in a letter published by APS news agency on Tuesday.

“My intention … is to contribute to calming down the souls and minds of the citizens so that they can collectively take Algeria to the better future they aspire to,” Bouteflika said in the letter to the president of the Constitutional Council.

“I have made this decision to avoid and prevent the arguments which distort, unfortunately, the current situation, and avoid its turning into serious skirmishes, to ensure the protection of persons and property,” he added.

State TV later showed a frail-looking Bouteflika, dressed in a traditional winter robe, handing his resignation letter to the head of a constitutional council.

Also present was Abdelkader Bensalah, chairman of the upper house of parliament, who will run the country for 90 days until elections are held.

Hundreds of Algerians took to the streets of the capital to celebrate the leader’s departure. Young people waved Algerian flags and drove through the city center, where on Feb. 22 mass protests broke out against the veteran ruler.

“The army and the people are one” and “Game over”, banners read.

Bouteflika’s announcement comes hours after Algeria’s army chief of staff demanded Bouteflika be declared unfit for office, the private Ennahar TV station reported.

Lieutenant General Ahmed Gaed Salah said he was on the side of the people and that no more time should be wasted.

Protests initially started after Bouteflika announced his plan to seek a fifth mandate but then widened to include calls from some youth and lawyers for wider reforms.

On March 11, Bouteflika announced he would abandon his election bid in an attempt to defuse unrest. He also delayed the presidential vote indefinitely and announced he would only step down once a new constitution had been passed and a successor had been elected.

This did little to quell public anger, prompting key allies to abandon the president.

As Bouteflika’s grip on power started to loosen over recent days, some protesters began shifting their focus to rejecting a caretaker government appointed on Sunday.

The lineup included respected technocrats but was headed by Prime Minister Noureddine Bedoui, who the opposition said was too close to the ruling elite dominated by business tycoons and veteran fighters of the 1954-62 independence war with France.

Hundreds of Algerians took to the streets of the capital to celebrate the leader’s departure. Young people waved Algerian flags and drove through the city center, where on Feb. 22 mass protests broke out against the veteran ruler.

“The army and the people are one” and “Game over”, banners read.

Analysts say it was unclear whether the demonstrations will end following Bouteflika’s resignation. 

However, protesters have voiced opposition to the entire system surrounding Bouteflika, calling for a complete overthrow of the status quo including the army and the Presidential alliance.

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