Bouteflika's party says it backs Algeria protests, calls for dialogue

AFP , Thursday 21 Mar 2019

The party of Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika said Wednesday it supports protesters' calls for change while backing his call for dialogue to overcome the country's political crisis.

The National Liberation Front (FLN)'s statement comes after cracks emerged within two other pillars of Bouteflika's regime, key trade union the General Union of Algerian Workers (UGTA) and the Business Leaders Forum.

FLN chief Mouad Bouchareb said the government "was not in the hands of the party", in remarks seen as an attempt to distance the FLN from the Bouteflika regime.

The FLN has been in power since Algeria won independence in 1962.

Algeria has been gripped by unprecedented protests since February 22, following Bouteflika's announcement he was running for a fifth term as president despite concerns about his ability to run the country.

The 82-year-old president, in office for two decades, uses a wheelchair and has rarely appeared in public since suffering a stroke in 2013.

"FLN activists fully support the popular movement" by which "the people demand change through massive street marches," said Bouchareb.

Bouteflika, who is honorary leader of the party, had "made it clear he was moving towards changing the system, towards a new Algeria", Bouchareb said.

"The people spoke unequivocally and FLN activists... will work to achieve the expected goals following a clear plan," he said.

"It is necessary to sit around a table for dialogue to attain a new Algeria."

The FLN and its allies have for months supported Bouteflika's bid for a fifth term, with the party appointing him as its candidate for elections that had been scheduled for April 18.

Both the UGTA and the Business Leaders Forum have been hit by dissent and resignations over their leadership's initial support of Bouteflika for another term as president.

Analysts said the defections were a sign that Bouteflika's days in office could be numbered.

"Bouteflika is losing touch and everybody is trying to salvage the situation," Rachid Grim, a political scientist at the Higher Institute of Management and Planning in Algiers, told AFP.

The president has "no base any more, the people have let go, everybody has let go", he said.

Mohamed Hennad, a former political sciences professor at Algiers University, said the cracks in pro-regime ranks were "a sign the system is falling apart and that change is near".

Bouteflika said on February 10 that he intended to stand in the election, triggering weeks of protests.

In a surprise announcement on March 11, he said he was pulling out of the race -- but postponed the poll.

Protestors initially greeted the move with elation, but staged further mass demonstrations after they realised he still intended to remain in office.

The veteran leader announced he was rolling out reforms through a "national conference", and confirmed on Monday that his plan would see him stay in power after his term ends on April 28 until a new president is elected.

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