Algeria army chief says military will prevent violence - GulfToday

Algeria army chief says military will prevent violence


Police officers prevent demonstrators from marching during a May Day protest on Labour Day in Algiers. Reuters

Algeria’s army chief of staff said on Wednesday the military will ensure the country does not descend into violence, state TV reported, as mass protests that prompted President Abdelaziz Bouteflika to quit on April 2 continue.

Bouteflika’s exit has not quieted protesters, who are now demanding the dismantling of an entire ruling elite entrenched for decades, a shift towards more democracy and a crackdown on systemic corruption and cronyism.

Lieutenant General Ahmed Gaed Salah said the ongoing marches showed there was consensus on how to get out of the crisis, state TV reported. He did not elaborate but some protesters have welcomed an effort by Salah to prosecute members of the ruling elite close to Bouteflika.

The army remains the most powerful institution in Algeria, a major oil and natural gas producer, having swayed politics from the shadows for decades. It has so far patiently monitored the mostly peaceful protests that at times have swelled to hundreds of thousands of people.

On Tuesday, Salah — who helped push out Bouteflika after having him declared unfit for office — said several big corruption cases would come to light in a crackdown on graft, the private Ennahar TV station said.

Algeria’s ruling National Liberation Front (FLN) party on Wednesday endorsed Salah’s approach and called on protesters and opposition parties to pursue dialogue to end the crisis.

“We hail the army’s leadership for its harmony with the people,” newly-elected FLN leader Mohamed Djemai said in televised comments. “Dialogue is the only way to get out of this situation.” Djemai, a 50-year-old businessman, replaced Moad Bouchared on Tuesday as chief of the FLN, which has governed the North African country since independence from France in 1962.

Mass protests broke out on Feb. 22 to demand the departure of the entire ruling elite, including the FLN.

“We feel pain and some party members cry when we hear ‘FLN, go,” Djemai said, referring to a slogan commonly chanted by protesters. “We ask the people forgiveness if we have made mistakes.” Hundreds of people demonstrated again in Algiers on Wednesday for more reforms, TV footage showed.

Former Algerian prime minister Ahmed Ouyahia was questioned Tuesday over corruption allegations, state TV reported, as the army chief vowed a widening investigation into deposed president Bouteflika’s circle will not descend into score settling.

Algeria’s military would ensure judicial investigations were not be subject to “pressure or decrees”, nor would they be “arbitrary or (involve) the settlement of scores”, army chief General Ahmed Gaid Salah said in a speech Tuesday.

Private television channels broadcast footage of the unpopular Ouyahia’s arrival at court in the centre of the capital Algiers.

“Take Ouyahia to El Harrach,” the prison where five businessmen have been detained since early April on corruption charges, dozens of demonstrators gathered outside chanted.

“They should all go, they should all be held to account,” read banners carried by the protesters, as anti-riot police were deployed in strength to guard the court.

Ouyahia left the courthouse on Tuesday afternoon and did not say anything as he departed, an AFP journalist said.

The former prime minister is the latest prominent figure to be caught up in a fraud probe launched by prosecutors since the ailing Bouteflika was forced to step down on April 3 following weeks of mass protests.

Finance Minister Mohamed Loukal, a former central bank governor, was questioned at the same Algiers court on Monday over suspicions of “squandering” public funds.

Salah said the defence ministry was aware of several serious corruption cases, involving “huge” theft of public funds.

He said the security services had left the cases at the “disposal of the justice system”.

Ouyahia and Loukal were both summoned on April 20 for questioning by prosecutors.

Ouyahia served four times as prime minister from 1995, three of them during Bouteflika’s two-decade rule.

He was finally abandoned by his longtime master on March 11 in a last-ditch bid to hang on to power. Loukal was appointed finance minister at the end of March after Bouteflika named interior minister Noureddine Bedoui to replace Ouyahia as prime minister.


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