Bouteflika party says it backs Algeria protests

Algerians carry placards and national flags as they take part in a demonstration in the capital Algiers against President Abdelaziz Bouteflika on Tuesday. — AFP

ALGIERS — The party of ailing Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika said on Wednesday it supports protesters’ calls for change while advocating his initiative for dialogue to overcome the country’s political crisis.

National Liberation Front (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 Feb. 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 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 toward changing the system, toward 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.

Bouteflika, who has been in power for two decades, on Feb. 10 said he intended to stand in the election, triggering weeks of protests against the move.

In a surprise announcement on March 11, he said he was pulling out of the race, in a move initially greeted with elation by the protesters before they realized 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. — AFP