Algerian protesters denounce Bouteflika 'tricks'
JC News|March. 12, 2019
Protesters returned to Algeria's streets Tuesday after jubilation over ailing 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 82-year-old leader said he would not stand for a fifth term and cancelled next month's presidential election.
After initial celebratory rallies, hundred of students joined a fresh protest in the capital Tuesday, accusing Bouteflika of "tricks".
"The students are resisting the extension of the fourth mandate," they chanted in a square outside Algiers' main post office.
Half a dozen police vans were parked around the Place de la Grande Poste, which has been the epicentre of protests demanding Bouteflika resign.
"Bouteflika has no right to prolong his mandate without the people's approval," said 22-year-old geology student Riad Labed.
Students also took to the streets of second city Oran, local journalists said, while in the northeastern city of Annaba they were preparing for their next move.
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.
Messages posted overnight on social media urged students across the country to "end this system, end this mafia" with more protests planned on Friday.
- 'Battle is not won' -
"No to manipulation, let's be vigilant. The battle is not won. Those in power want to stay and proof of this is that the interior minister has become the prime minister," one message said.
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".
Former colonial power France cautiously "welcomed" Bouteflika's announcement but President Emmanuel Macron called for "a transition in a reasonable timeframe".
- 'Chills up my spine' -
Bouteflika's mandate officially ends on April 29.
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.
"There is no legal basis to delay the elections," said Fatiha Benabou, a professor at Algiers University and expert on constitutional matters.
Bouteflika's pledge, a day after he returned from Switzerland where he spent two weeks at a hospital for medical checks, failed to convince his key rival Ali Benflis.
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".
Algerians who celebrated late into the night woke up Tuesday unsure of Bouteflika's real intentions.
"At first I jumped with joy when I heard the message on television but later I started getting chills up my spine," retired teacher Latifa Ben wrote on Facebook.
After posting a message of "victory", engineer Akli Ourad called for "vigilance, vigilance" on Facebook, saying Bouteflika's promise was merely "a gimmick" aimed at winning another year in office.
Former culture minister Abdelaziz Rahabi tweeted that Bouteflika was "ridiculing the people".
"His determination to stay in power will push the country towards the unknown and is dangerous for the stability of the State and unity of the people," said Rahabi.