Retired Algeria general urges Bouteflika to step down

AFP , Wednesday 12 Feb 2014

A retired senior Algerian general has called on President Abdelaziz Bouteflika to step down "with dignity" and not run for a fourth term in April, in an interview published Wednesday.

Hocine Benhadid also accused the president's inner circle of "treason" after Amar Saidani, the ruling party's secretary general, publicly accused the powerful military intelligence chief of interfering in politics to the detriment of the country's security.

"Here is what I'm asking from President Bouteflika: He came to power with the slogan 'pride and dignity'... so he should retire... with dignity and let Algeria catch its breath," Benhadid told the newspapers El Khabar and El Watan.

His comments are the latest sign of an intensifying power struggle between Bouteflika's supporters and the army, ahead of the presidential poll.

Benhadid, who once commanded one of Algeria's military regions, said he was speaking on behalf of others in the armed forces, without saying whom, "because we cannot let this situation continue."

The 76-year-old Bouteflika, who has been in power for 15 years, suffered a mini-stroke that confined him to hospital in Paris for three months last year. He has yet to say if his health will permit him to run for re-election.

But for Benhadid, the country's stability cannot be guaranteed by someone who was "sick" and the "hostage of his entourage."

He singled out for criticism Bouteflika's brother Said, the "main actor" in the presidential clan, as well as army chief Ahmed Gaid Salah, one of the ailing leader's key allies.

"The chief of staff has no credibility, and no one is fond of him," Benhadid said.

He accused Bouteflika's entourage of "playing with Algeria's destiny" in order to "save its skin, because corruption has reached dangerous levels."

Benhadid, who retired in 1996 during Algeria's decade-long civil war, said Bouteflika's clan was guilty of "treason" for calling on Mohamed "Tewfik" Mediene, the veteran chief of the DRS military intelligence agency, to quit over alleged security failings.

Saidani, the leader of Bouteflika's National Liberation Front and a key supporter of the president standing for re-election, made the call last week in unprecedented public criticism of the secretive general who many consider the hidden force in Algerian politics.

Benhadid said "the DRS is a military institution, and the army is the ultimate protector of the country. If you undermine the army, then the country is in danger, so that amounts to treason."

In his first official response to Saidani's tirade, Bouteflika strongly backed the army on Tuesday, in a letter of condolence to the families of 77 people killed when a military aircraft crashed in the mountainous northeast region of Oum El Bouaghi.

"No one has the right, whatever their position, to attack the People's National Army and other state institutions," the president said.

Local press reports have suggested that Mediene, who has commissioned inquiries into various high-profile corruption cases in Algeria, possesses hundreds of files incriminating the president's inner circle.

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