–Amid protests Bouteflika wants to run for last time
–Algerian president announces departure plans after mass protests
Algeria’s veteran President Abdelaziz Bouteflika has defied protesters by confirming he will run again, but says he will not serve a full term.
Algeria’s ailing president has promised to step down after the next election and enact reforms, as the nation’s elite moved to consolidate its power in the face of historic mass protests.
“I’ve heard the heartfelt cry of the protesters,” said Abdelaziz Bouteflika in a letter read out on national television on Sunday night. Addressing the uprising against his rule for the first time, he promised that, if re-elected in April, he would hold a national conference to implement political reforms and set a date for a second election where he would not be a candidate.
“[This] will find my successor in a manner incontrovertibly peaceful, free and transparent,” he said, adding that he would hold a national referendum to adopt “a new constitution which will mark the birth of a new republic and a new Algerian political system”.
His decision to seek a fifth term in office sparked nationwide protests.
Mr Bouteflika, 82, has rarely been seen in public since suffering a stroke in 2013.
Sunday saw new protests as a midnight deadline loomed for candidates to register. By nightfall young people were again marching in the capital Algiers despite the president’s offer.
The announcement came after hundreds of students staged new protests in the Algerian capital and other cities against a fifth term ahead of a midnight deadline for candidates to register for the April 18 vote.
In Algiers, where protests have officially been banned since 2001, police used water cannon and tear gas to disperse more than 100 students rallying near the main campus of the city’s university chanting slogans such as “Bouteflika go away”, witnesses told news agencies.
According to Swiss news reports, Bouteflika was remaining in Geneva for medical treatment. Dictator Alert, a bot that tracks air traffic at Geneva airport, said on Twitter that an Algerian government plane had landed on 24 February, departed less than an hour later and “hasn’t been seen since”.
Algerian law requires candidates to submit 60,000 signatures in person, leaving many to wonder whether Bouteflika was well enough to return and submit his candidacy in Algiers. “The candidate must present the signatures themselves,” saidAbdelwahab Derbal, head of the country’s electoral monitoring body, in response to reports that Bouteflika’s new campaign manager would present his candidacy in his place and read a letter from the president.
Late on Sunday afternoon, eight vans carrying the required signatures arrived at the constitutional court in Algiers to confirm Bouteflika’s candidacy but without any official present, an act likely to further provoke the ire of demonstrators who view him as unfit to rule.
“If Bouteflika continues to run, Algeria risks sliding into chaos,” Omar Belhouchet, the founding editor of the Algerian newspaper El Watan, told France 24. He said Bouteflika’s attempt to hold on to power was “totally unrealistic”.
McInerney said: “Every step the regime takes is increasing the anger and frustration of people on the streets. This is potentially a dangerous scenario. Right now, the streets want anyone else other than Bouteflika as president. Each day that passes, they want even more,” he said.