Algerian president Bouteflika resigns - GulfToday

Algerian president Bouteflika resigns


Algerian demonstrators march during a protest in Algiers.

ALGIERS: Algeria's President Abdelaziz Bouteflika has submitted his resignation, state news agency APS said on Tuesday, following weeks of mass protests against his rule.

The ailing, 82-year-old leader stood down shortly after the army chief of staff demanded immediate action to remove him from office.

"There is no more room to waste time," state news agency APS quoted Lieutenant General Ahmed Gaed Salah as saying.

On Monday, Bouteflika, who was in power for 20 years, had said he would quit before the end of his term on April 28.

But a protest leader and opposition parties rejected this as insufficient, while hundreds of students marched through the capital Algiers to demand replacement of a political system widely seen as incapable of significant reform.

The 82-year-old, a veteran of Algeria's war for independence, has rarely been seen in public since a stroke in 2013.

President Abdelaziz Bouteflika and Algeria's Chief of Staff General Ahmed Gaid Salah. AFP

He had sought to fend off the wave of dissent against his two-decade-old rule that began on Feb 22 by reversing his decision to seek a fifth term. But he did not say when he would go, further angering protesters.

Bouteflika submitted his resignation on Tuesday after the army chief of staff demanded immediate constitutional procedures to remove him from office, the APS news agency reported.

In a report on Monday, APS had said Bouteflika would leave before his term ended on April 28. Two private TV channels said on Sunday he could quit this week.

A fighter in the 1954-1962 war to end French colonial rule, Bouteflika became independent Algeria's first foreign minister and one of the forces behind the Non-Aligned Movement that gave a global voice to Africa, Asia and Latin America.

He championed post-colonial states, challenged what he saw as the hegemony of the United States and helped turn his country into a seed-bed of 1960s idealism.

He welcomed Che Guevara, and a young Nelson Mandela got his first military training in Algeria. Black Panther Eldridge Cleaver, on the run from US police, was given refuge. Cleaver held court in his Algiers safe house with Timothy Leary, the drug-taking high priest of US counter-culture.

As president of the UN General Assembly, Bouteflika invited Yasser Arafat to address the body in 1974, a historic step towards international recognition of the Palestinian cause.

By the end of the 1970s, though, Bouteflika had fallen from favour at home and went into exile. He returned to public life when Algeria was being ravaged by a conflict with militants which killed an estimated 200,000 people.

First elected president in 1999, he negotiated a truce to end the fighting and wrested power from the secretive military-based establishment known as "le pouvoir" (the powers-that-be).

Helped by oil and gas revenues, Algeria became more peaceful and richer. But it remains mired in corruption and political and economic torpor in a region where uprisings brought changes elsewhere.

Algerian students take part in a demonstraion in the capital Algiers. AFP

With a cushion of foreign reserves and a population wary of major upheaval after their civil war, Algeria avoided the Arab Spring revolutions that toppled leaders across the region in 2011.

But protests against poor living standards, the lack of job opportunities and services were common even before the mass protests, and foreign investors are keen for economic reforms that will cut the red tape that often hampers business.

Some biographers say Bouteflika was born in Tlemcen, western Algeria, and others give his place of birth as Oujda, just over the border in Morocco.

Aged 19, he joined the rebellion against French rule as a protege of Houari Boumediene, a commander who would later become Algerian president.

After independence, Bouteflika became minister for youth and tourism at the age of 25. The following year he was made foreign minister.

Dressed in the tailored suits and sunglasses fashionable in the 1960s, Bouteflika became a spokesman for states emerging from colonial rule, given added authority by the cachet Algeria had earned from defeating France.

Bouteflika demanded that Communist China be given a seat in the United Nations. He railed against apartheid rule in South Africa.

An Algerian student takes part in anti-government demonstrations in Algiers. AFP

When pro-Palestinian militant Illich Ramirez Sanchez, better known as "Carlos the Jackal", kidnapped oil ministers from an OPEC meeting in Vienna in 1975, he demanded to be flown with his hostages to Algiers. Bouteflika was shown on camera embracing Carlos at the airport before they sat down to negotiate the hostages' release.

When Boumediene died in 1978, Bouteflika lost his mentor. He was replaced as foreign minister and an investigation was launched into financial impropriety. Bouteflika said the allegations were fabricated as part of a political plot.

He left Algeria in the early 1980s and settled in Dubai, where he became an adviser to a member of the emirate's ruling family. He returned home in 1987 but kept a low profile, refusing offers of government posts.

In the meantime, Algeria was unravelling. The military-backed government annulled a parliamentary election in 1992 that Islamists were on the verge of winning. In the conflict that followed, whole villages were massacred and civilians walking in city streets had their throats slit.