FLAG-WAVING Algerians celebrated the resignation of ailing leader Abdelaziz Bouteflika after two decades in power, but vowed to keep protesting to demand sweeping change to the country’s whole political system.
The 82-year-old president ceded power in the face of massive street demonstrations that have shaken the North African nation, with state media announcing late on Tuesday he had submitted his resignation with immediate effect.
Car horns sounded in the streets before jubilant crowds converged in the centre of the capital Algiers to cheer the departure of the veteran leader, who has rarely appeared in public since suffering a stroke in 2013. At the same time, many people said they were determined to continue demonstrating, rejecting any transition that leaves power in the hands of the ‘system’.
‘I want my daughter to remember this historic day. Bouteflika’s gone, but it’s far from over,’ said Amal, who vowed to march again on Friday. For engineer Hamid Boumaza, Bouteflika’s resignation was ‘too little, too late’. ‘Bouteflika’s departure is no longer enough. We want them all to go. We want full freedom and we will march for as long as necessary.’
‘Appeasement of hearts’
Algeria has largely avoided the turmoil unleashed by the Arab Spring uprisings that brought down rulers in neighbouring Tunisia and Libya. But discontent, particularly among the young, turned to anger after Bouteflika announced in February that he would seek a fifth term in office in an election that had been scheduled for this month.
He dropped his bid in the face of the mass protests but also postponed the vote, angering Algerians who saw the move as a ploy to stay in power. On Monday, his office said he would resign before his mandate expires at the end of the month.
As pressure mounted, state television announced late on Tuesday that Bouteflika ‘officially advised the constitutional council of the end of his term of office as President of the Republic’.
‘This decision, which I take in my soul and conscience, is destined to contribute to the appeasement of the hearts and minds of my compatriots, to allow them to take Algeria towards a better future to which they legitimately aspire,’ his resignation letter said.
Footage showed Bouteflika, sitting in his wheelchair, handing the resignation letter to the head of the constitutional council, Tayeb Belaiz.
The US said the future of Algeria was now up to its people. ‘Questions about how to navigate this transition in Algeria, that is for the Algerian people to decide,’ state department spokesperson Robert Palladino told reporters.
Russia, a longtime ally of Algeria, called for a transition without foreign ‘interference’.
French foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said Bouteflika’s decision to step down marked the turning of ‘an important page in the history of Algeria … We are confident in the ability of all Algerians to continue this democratic transition in the same spirit of calm and responsibility’ that has prevailed in recent weeks, Le Drian added.
Algeria’s constitution stipulates that once the president officially resigns, the speaker of the upper house of parliament, Abdelkader Bensalah, acts as interim leader for up to 90 days during which a presidential election must be organised.
Military joins the fray
The resignation came shortly after the military demanded impeachment proceedings be launched against Bouteflika. Armed forces chief Ahmed Gaid Salah said the army’s ‘sole ambition’ is to ‘protect the people from a handful of [other] people who have unduly taken over the wealth of the Algerian people.’
A long-time Bouteflika ally, last week, the general called on the president to resign or be declared unfit to rule, becoming one of the first of his long-time supporters to abandon him.
Bouteflika named a new government on Sunday, made up mainly of technocrats under recently appointed premier Noureddine Bedoui. The administration — supposed to steer the country towards transition — includes Genl Gaid Salah remaining in his position as deputy defence minister.
Among the other key Bouteflika backers is his younger brother and special adviser Said, who was frequently cited in the past as a likely successor to the president. Discreet and rarely seen in public, Said Bouteflika has exerted increasing influence behind the scenes as his brother’s health worsened, but the president’s resignation could take away much of his power.