Algeria: Ruling party abandons Bouteflika amid protests

Algeria’s ruling party has abandoned support for President Abdelaziz Bouteflika after weeks of protests against his decision to stand for a fifth term in the upcoming election.

Many indicators have shown that Algeria’s ruling party, the National Liberation Front (FLN), is giving up support for Bouteflika after thousands protested in the capital Algiers calling for his departure. The protests have continued despite his announcement earlier this week that he would not run for a new term.

Bouteflika has quickly begun to lose allies in the past few days after he returned from treatment in Switzerland. The ruling party’s senior leader, Hussein Khaldoun, told Al-Nahar TV last night that Bouteflika “is history now”.

Khaldoun’s statement was a new blow to Bouteflika, who was hoping to ease tensions in Algeria by pledging to change the political arena he has dominated for decades.

Khaldoun, who is the former spokesman for the ruling party, is now one of the party’s most prominent officials to declare his defection from Bouteflika. Khaldoun said the party – which has a majority in all elected councils, including the parliament and municipal councils – should look ahead and adopt the protesters’ goals.

A former minister who is close to Bouteflika told Reuters that the president may not be able to remain because of growing pressure from all social classes in Algeria. “The game is over and Bouteflika has no choice but to step down now,” the minister said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Although Bouteflika announced that he will not run for a new term he did not announce his resignation, and is instead planning to remain in power until the end of the National Congress for Political Transition and the drafting of a new constitution. However, his position has become weaker as he continues to lose allies, including senior members of the FLN which has ruled the country since it gained independence from France in 1962.

Meanwhile, thousands of demonstrators gathered in central Algiers today for the fourth week in a row calling for the departure of Bouteflika, who has ruled the country for 20 years.

Yesterday demonstrators gathered at Post Office Square, with their numbers increasing throughout the afternoon. These demonstrations have taken place every Friday since 22 February, but yesterday was the first time since Bouteflika announced he would postpone elections, withdraw from the candidacy and extend his mandate, which is supposed to end on 28 April.

Hundreds of demonstrators also gathered in Maurice Audin Square, near Post Office Square, waiting for the main demonstration to begin. Just like in previous weeks, police forces parked their trucks on Abd Al-Karim El-Khattabi Street, between the Audin and Post Office squares.

A group of demonstrators stated that they came from other cities such as Tizi Ouzou, located 100 kilometres east of Algeria, and spent the night in the capital with their families and friends, fearing they could not make it because of the lack of transportation or security barriers preventing vehicles from passing.

One demonstrator wrote on a banner: “You were acting as if you understood our message, then we will act as if we have heard it,” while another wrote: “I seek refuge in Allah from the cursed regime.”

The demonstrations are unprecedented in Algeria since Bouteflika came to power 20 years ago.

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