World

Algeria's president bows to public pressure, won't seek 5th term

Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika has announced a delay to next month's presidential election and is bowing to unprecedented public protests and promising not to seek a fifth term.

Abdelaziz Bouteflika, 82 and ailing, postpones election, names new prime minister

Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika has faced unprecedented protests in recent weeks demanding that he abandon plans to seek another term. (Sidali Djarboub/Associated Press)

Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika bowed to unprecedented public protests Monday and promised not to seek a fifth term after 20 years in power.

In a letter to the nation released by state news agency APS, the ailing leader also said the presidential election scheduled for April 18 would be postponed. He promised to appoint a new leadership structure to plan a rescheduled vote. 

Algerian state news agency APS says Bouteflika has named the interior minister in his government as the new prime minister. Interior Minister Noureddine Bedoui is close to the president's brother.

Bouteflika charged Bedoui with forming a new government on Monday. Bedoui is replacing Ahmed Ouyahia as prime minister. 

Bouteflika, 82, has barely been seen in public since a 2013 stroke. He has faced mounting pressure in recent weeks demanding that he abandon plans to seek another term.

His decision to run again set off protests in February and have expanded to include broader complaints about corruption and heavy-handed security policies.

The president returned Sunday from two weeks in a Geneva hospital, but the exact state of his health remains unclear.

Celebrations popped up instead of protests on the streets of the capital, Algiers, at the news. Car horns rang out while people waved flags, jumped up and down, and sang the national anthem. Several thanked Bouteflika. One described the development as a "real ray of sunshine."

Others were more cautious, calling their longtime leader's pledge to step aside just a first step. Bouteflika did not give a date or timeline for the delayed election. 

But Bouteflika pledged to appoint a new government and a separate "national conference" tasked with rescheduling the election and drafting a new constitution. 

Critics fear a hand-picked successor

Critics said they fear the moves could pave the way for the president to install a hand-picked successor. 

A wily political survivor, Bouteflika fought in Algeria's independence war against French forces and has played a role in Algeria's major developments for the past half-century.

Watch: Thousands in Montreal protest Bouteflika government:
Huge crowds gathered outside the Algerian consulate in Montreal to protest the country’s ruling government and to stand in solidarity with people in the north African country amid what's being called the "Algerian Spring." 2:05

He became president in 1999 and reconciled a nation riven by a deadly Islamic insurgency, but questions swirl over whether he is really running the country today.

The recent protests surprised Algeria's opaque leadership and freed the country's people, long fearful of a watchful security apparatus, to openly criticize the president. 

Algerians also expressed anger over corruption that put their country's oil and gas riches in the hands of a few while millions of young people struggle to find jobs.

The unprecedented citizens' revolt drew millions into the streets of cities across the country to demand that Bouteflika abandon his candidacy. 

On Monday, Algerian teenagers and lawyers held protests, and workers held scattered walkouts, as the tense nation waited to see what concessions Bouteflika would give, if any.

Security high in capital of Algiers

His capitulation on a re-election bid likely will assuage some concerns.

Security was high Monday in Algiers, where some businesses were shuttered by a second day of strikes. Other stores and administrative offices remained open.

Middle school and high school students held protests in several towns, according to local media. Education Minister Nouria Benghabrit appealed on her Facebook page for protesters to "leave schools out of political turbulence" shaking the country.

Meanwhile, lawyers in black robes gathered in front of courthouses to join calls for Bouteflika to abandon his bid for re-election. Some judges joined a lawyers' protest in the city of Bedjaia. 

Judges are normally banned from publicly demonstrating, as are police officers and soldiers.

With files from Reuters