Heba Saleh in Cairo MARCH 19, 2019
A group of opposition figures in Algeria has called on the army to stay out of politics as thousands of protesters took to the streets again on Tuesday to demand that President Abdelaziz Bouteflika steps down. As health workers, doctors and students marched in Algiers, Russia voiced its support for the Algerian regime during a visit to Moscow by Ramtane Lamamra, the deputy prime minister who was appointed last week. Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, said Moscow supported plans by Mr Bouteflika to launch a national conference to agree new political arrangements. He said Russia was concerned by what it considered to be an attempt to destabilise Algeria. Mr Lamamra’s visit, part of a tour that will also take him to China, appeared calculated to show that the Algerian regime had support from world powers. Neither Moscow, nor Beijing are likely to urge any political liberalisation in Algeria, analysts say. On Monday night, Algerian political leaders on the National Coordination for Change, a new body which backs the month-long protests against Mr Bouteflika, said the army should adhere to its constitutional role “without interfering in the people’s choice”.
Ahmed Gaid Salah, the army chief of staff had said on Monday that the military should take responsibility for finding a quick solution to the crisis. He did not elaborate but analysts detected a change in tone in Mr Salah’s pronouncements since the start of the process when he appeared to side with Mr Bouteflika. The 82-year-old president suffered a stroke six years ago which left him paralysed and impaired his speech. Algerians have not heard him speak for six years and they suspect that others in his entourage are making the decisions. Algerian politicians and analysts believe the Bouteflika regime would fall if the military withdrew its support. The opposition is hoping a final push will come on or before April 28, the date Mr Bouteflika’s term expires.
Algerian protesters have already rejected Mr Bouteflika’s offer of a transition under his aegis which he made after weeks of demonstrations against plans for him to remain for a fifth term in office. Elections scheduled for April 18 were cancelled and Mr Bouteflika said he would stay to oversee the transition. On Friday, the first weekend after Mr Bouteflika announced his plan, Algeria witnessed the biggest demonstrations since the start of the crisis, with hundreds of thousands of people taking part in rallies in cities across the vast north African country.