National dialogue needed in Algeria

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Algeria needs a national dialogue to lay the groundwork for presidential elections to end a political crisis, interim President Abdelkader Bensalah said as mass protests calling for political reforms continued.

After 20 years in power, President Abdelaziz Bouteflika quit on April 2 under pressure from protesters and the army, but demonstrators are pushing for radical change.

Authorities postponed a presidential election initially planned for Thursday, extending a transition period led by Bensalah as upper house head according to the constitution.

In a televised speech, Bensalah said a national dialogue should be launched to decide on how to hold presidential elections, without setting a date.

“The dialogue will focus on a strategic goal – the organisation of elections,” he said.

The army, the country’s most influential institution, would not be part of the dialogue, said Bensalah, facing calls to resign as he was a close ally of Bouteflika.

Protesters, especially youth, want the departure of senior figures, including politicians and businessmen, who governed the North African country since independence from France in 1962.

Protesters rejected previous dialogue offers from Bensalah.

Armed forces chief Lieutenant-General Ahmed Gaed Salah, managing the transition, called on parties and protesters to meet among themselves to discuss a way out.

He also called for prosecution of officials accused of corruption, sparking arrests of former allies of Bouteflika.