Thousands of protesters returned to Algeria’s streets yesterday after jubilation over President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s vow not to seek re-election gave way to fears of a plot to prolong his two-decade rule.
In a surprise announcement Monday, the ailing 82-year-old said he would not stand for a fifth term but also cancelled next month’s presidential election. After initial celebration, thousands of students along with some lecturers held a new protest in the capital yesterday, accusing Bouteflika of “tricks”.
Messages posted overnight on social media urged students across the country to “end this system, end this mafia” with more protests planned on Friday. “The students are resisting the extension of the fourth mandate,” they chanted in an Algiers square that has been the epicentre of protests demanding Bouteflika resign.
Bouteflika has named interior minister Noureddine Bedoui as the new prime minister to replace the unpopular Ahmed Ouyahia. Several newspapers have also accused Bouteflika of deceiving the people.
“He scraps the presidential election but stays in power: the latest ploy by Bouteflika,” the influential El Watan newspaper said on its front page. The Liberte daily denounced a “sham” while El Khabar newspaper said Bouteflika wanted “to remain president without elections”.
Demonstrators gathered for hours in central Algiers before dispersing late afternoon. Students also took to the streets of major cities Oran and Constantine, where they were joined by professors, local journalists said.
The president announced on Monday that a “national conference” would set a new date for polls that he would not contest. “There will not be a fifth term” and “there will be no presidential election on April 18,” he said in a message reported by the official APS news agency.
The veteran leader, who uses a wheelchair and has rarely appeared in public since suffering a stroke in 2013, said he was responding to “a pressing demand that you have been numerous in making to me”.
National television broadcast footage on Monday night of Bouteflika in his trademark three-piece suit receiving several senior officials. Students have been at the forefront of weeks of massive demonstrations demanding Bouteflika step down, in a country where half the population is under the age of 30.