Algeria’s army chief said the public had expressed “noble aims” during protests against President Abdelaziz Bouteflika and the ruling FLN party withdrew its support for him, in the heaviest blows for the veteran leader since the unrest began, reported Reuters.
Lieutenant General Ahmed Gaed Salah said that a month of demonstrations had been “marked by the deeds of noble aims and pure intentions, through which the Algerian people has clearly expressed its values and principles of sincere and dedicated work to Allah and the motherland”.
The comments, made on Tuesday during a tour of a military district and carried by Algerian media on Wednesday, were the strongest indication yet that the military is distancing itself from the ailing president.
Meanwhile an influential Algerian party that was a long-time supporter of Bouteflika has criticized the ailing president for seeking to stay in power, another setback for the ruling elite in the face of mass demonstrations, reported Reuters.
The Democratic National Rally (RND), a member of the ruling coalition, has joined ruling party officials, unions and business tycoons who have abandoned Bouteflika (who has ruled for 20 years) in recent days, after nearly a month of street demonstrations protests.
“The candidacy of president Abdelaziz Bouteflika for a new term was a big mistake. Extra constitutional forces have seized power in the past few years and ruled state affairs outside a legal framework,” RND spokesman Seddik Chihab told El Bilad TV.
Bouteflika, bowed to the protesters last week by reversing plans to stand for a fifth term. But he stopped short of stepping down and said he would stay in office until a new constitution is adopted, effectively extending his present term.
His moves have done nothing to halt demonstrations, which peaked on Friday with hundreds of thousands of protesters on the streets of Algiers and have continued into this week.
RND leader Ahmed Ouyahia, a former prime minister who had close ties to intelligence agencies, has also switched sides. “The people’s demands should be met as soon as possible,” he told followers in a letter on Sunday.
Leaders have emerged from the protest movement, offering an alternative to Bouteflika’s political roadmap to what he says will be a new Algeria. But they have not built up enough momentum to force the president to quit or make more concessions.
The military, which wields enormous power from behind the scenes, has remained on the sidelines. A new group headed by activists and opposition figures told the army not to interfere. In the first direct public message to the generals from leaders emerging from the protests, the National Coordination for Change said the military should “play its constitutional role without interfering in the people’s choice.”
Another powerful figure, Bouteflika’s younger brother Said, has kept a low profile. The president has rarely been seen in public since suffering a stroke five years ago, and the protesters say a shadowy circle of aides, including Said, have been ruling the country in his name, reported Reuters.
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