Algeria's army chief, Ahmed Gaid Salah (Photo: Reuters)
Algeria's powerful army chief called Monday for a vote to elect a successor to ousted president Abdelaziz Bouteflika by the end of the year, with a date to be announced in mid-September.
Algeria's protests to demand an overhaul of the ruling regime have continued for six months and show no sign of waning despite the April resignation of veteran leader Bouteflika under pressure from the street.
Days after Bouteflika stepped down, upper house speaker Abdelkader Bensalah was appointed interim president. One of his first actions was to call presidential elections for July 4 -- but the date was later scrapped.
The grassroots protest movement has been adamant that no election should take place as long as Bouteflika-era officials, including Bensalah and army chief Ahmed Gaid Salah, remain in office.
But on Monday Gaid Salah said the electoral college should be summoned "on September 15" so that the long-delayed elections "can be held within the deadline stipulated by the law".
His comments appeared to be addressed at Bensalah who, in line with Algeria's electoral law, must issue a decree to gather the electoral college 90 days before polls can take place.
If the electoral college is summoned on September 15 as demanded by Gaid Salah, polls should therefore take place in mid-December.
Gaid Salah has emerged as a key powerbroker since Bouteflika was forced out.
In recent days he has called for the "acceleration" of preparations to hold a presidential election before the end of the year, including the creation of an independent body to "supervise all the steps of the electoral process".
But key groups within the protest movement, including opposition parties and civil society groups, demand constitutional changes and a reform of state institutions before an election can be held.
On Monday, Gaid Salah said polls could be preceded by "a revision of some texts of the electoral law".
"There won't be a total and deep overhaul... as demanded by some", due to time constraints, he said.
He also lashed out at opponents of presidential polls, saying they were "conspiring against the people and the nation".
"Stop putting obstacles in the path of loyal men who are providing initiatives to bring the country out of the crisis," he added.
He reiterated that the army would "not tolerate any attempt to undermine the work of state institutions".