All options open to end Algerian crisis

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Algeria’s army chief said the military was considering all options to resolve the national political crisis and warned “time is running out”, after weeks of anti-government protests.

Lieutenant-General Ahmed Gaed Salah’s remarks were the strongest indication yet the military, which supports a transition period after the April 2 resignation of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, is losing patience.

In a speech on state television, Salah, speaking at a military base in Ouargla, urged protesters to avoid violence.

“All options are open in overcoming the different difficulties and finding a solution to the crisis as soon as possible, in a way that serves our nation’s interests without regard to individual interests,” he said.

Salah did not specify what measures the army could take saying: “We have no ambition but to protect our nation”. The army monitored the mostly peaceful protests that sometimes swelled to thousands.

Salah intervened when Bouteflika sought to extend his fourth term, declaring him unfit for office to avoid prolonged turmoil.

Parliament named an interim president and a July 4 election date was set in a transition the army said it would support.

Bouteflika’s departure failed to placate Algerians who want to topple the old guard and its associates. Protesters want a clean break with the ruling elite – veterans of the war of independence against France, the ruling party and oligarchs – and sweeping democratic reforms.

Analysts say the army has acted within the framework of the constitution to avoid any impression of a coup.

In the early 1990s, the military cancelled an election Islamists were poised to win, triggering a civil war that killed an estimated 200,000 people and ravaging Algeria.

“Army leadership does not take any decision that does not serve the country and the people,” said Salah, adding some parties were not happy with “peaceful protests”.

‘ALGERIA’S GOD’

Salah accused a former intelligence chief of undermining the transition. A clear reference to General Mohamed Mediene, a spy chief dubbed “Algeria’s God” because many saw him as the real authority.

“I send this person a final warning,” said Salah.

“In case he persists in his actions, firm legal measures will be taken against him.”

Bouteflika fired Mediene in 2015 in an attempt to weaken the intelligence services, but he is still seen as one of the most powerful figures in Algeria.

Bouteflika worked for years to ease the generals’ influence and make the presidency more powerful by sacking top officers.

The army remains the most powerful institution in Algeria. It swayed politics from the shadows for decades and is expected to guide the transition process.

On Tuesday, the chairman of the Constitutional Council, Tayib Belaiz, quit his post, state news agency APS said. That followed calls for his resignation by protesters who say he is part of a ruling elite they want abolished.

Belaiz submitted his resignation to interim President Abdelkader Bensalah, APS reported, citing a statement from the council. He was replaced by Kamel Fenich, a little-known judge and member of the council, state TV said.

Thousands of demonstrators marched through Algiers and in cities across the country on Tuesday, calling for radical change in the eighth week of mass protests.

Belaiz’s departure could herald that of other senior political figures protesters want removed.

These include Bensalah, appointed interim president after Salah managed Bouteflika’s exit.