Algeria army chief demands Bouteflika be declared unfit to rule

Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika (right) meeting with army chief Ahmed Gaid Salah in Algiers on March 11, 2019. /AFP
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Algeria’s powerful army chief has asked for the country’s ailing President Abdelaziz Bouteflika to be declared unfit for office following weeks of mass protests against his rule.

General Ahmed Gaed Salah, the army’s chief of staff, said Tuesday in remarks carried by Algerian television that the solution to the country’s political crisis was to apply Article 102 of the constitution, under which the president could be declared unable to perform his duties due to serious illness.

Hundreds of thousands of people have been protesting for weeks to demand an immediate end to Bouteflika’s two-decade rule, and call for a new era with younger leaders who can offer greater social freedoms and a healthier economy.

Bouteflika, who has rarely been seen in public since suffering a stroke in 2013, bowed to protesters earlier this month by reversing plans to stand in elections for a fifth term and promising reforms to make the political system more inclusive.

But the 82-year-old stopped short of quitting and said he would stay on until a new constitution is adopted, effectively extending his present term. The move further enraged Algerians, and many of Bouteflika’s allies turned against him.

“In this context it became necessary, even imperative, to find a solution to end the crisis that responds to the legitimate demands of the Algerian people and which quarantines the rules of the constitution,” General Salah was quoted by the state news agency APS as saying on Tuesday.

Algeria’s powerful military had avoided direct intervention until now, patiently monitoring the unrest from the sidelines, although warning it would not tolerate chaos in the vast North African state, a major oil and natural gas exporter.

Under Article 102, Algeria’s Constitutional Council could determine that the president is too ill to fully exercise his functions, and ask the parliament to declare him unfit. Based on the constitution, the chairman of the upper house of parliament would take over as caretaker for at least 45 days.

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