Algeria army chief demands Bouteflika be declared unfit to rule

Algeria’s army chief Ahmed Gaid Salah has called for President Abdelaziz Bouteflika to be declared unfit to rule the country, following months of protests against the ailing head of state.

Massive demonstrations have taken place across Algeria in recent weeks calling for the president to quit, following his announcement that he would seek a fifth term.

Although Bouteflika later reversed his decision, the 82-year-old postponed elections that had been set for April and said he would remain in power until a new constitution was adopted, a move that effectively extended his current term. 

In a televised address on Tuesday, the army chief said he considered the people’s demands to be valid and that the presidency should be vacated.

“We must adopt a solution that helps us out of this crisis … a solution that respects and adheres to the constitution so that it’s a suitable one for all sides,” Salah said. 

“This solution is stipulated in article 102 of the constitution,” he said.

Under article 102, the 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 upper house chairman Abdelkader Bensalah would serve as caretaker president for at least 45 days.

The army chief is among the top power brokers in Algeria and his announcement could pave the way for Bouteflika’s ouster.

The move comes a day after the country’s ruling National Liberation Front (FLN) withdrew its support for Bouteflika’s proposal to hold a national conference aimed at getting the country out of its current political deadlock.

‘Turning point in modern Algeria’

Hundreds of thousands of Algerians have taken part in nationwide protests against Bouteflika’s re-election bid since February 22. 

Dalia Ghanem Yazbeck, a resident scholar at the Carnegie Middle East Center, told Al Jazeera the military has been sending “mixed messages” from the beginning of the demonstrations.

“At first it was ‘we will not tolerate chaos’, and then ‘we are with the voice of the people’, and what Gaid Saleh said today was confirmation that the military has taken a strong stance in the political arena,” she said from Algiers. 

“What he said today confirms that the Algerian military has been, and will remain the devoted guardians of Algeria’s power,” Yazbeck said. 

The army likely has a replacement in mind, she said, which it might make public in the next few days. 

Al Jazeera’s senior political analyst, Marwan Bishara, also described Salah’s announcement as a significant development, noting Bouteflika had appointed a new government and promised political reforms. 

“It’s a major turning point for Algeria … he [Bouteflika] set the stage for a new national dialogue in Algeria to pave the way for democratization of the country,” Bishara said. 

“So what is happening today, from the looks of it, is quite the opposite of what we were promised.”

Salah’s announcement signalled “a major escalation” and “basically means that the army has taken over,” added Bishara. 

Al Jazeera and news agencies

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