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Bouteflika Reshuffles Cabinet amid Reports of his Impending Resignation

Bouteflika Reshuffles Cabinet amid Reports of his Impending Resignation

Monday, 1 April, 2019 - 05:15
People wave Algerian national flags during a protest calling on President Abdelaziz Bouteflika to quit, in Algiers, Algeria March 22, 2019. (Reuters)

Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika named on Sunday a new caretaker government amid reports that he may resign later this week.

Political sources said that might be a signal that Bouteflika could resign, as a caretaker president cannot name cabinets.

Incumbent Prime Minister Noureddine Bedoui will head the administration, state news agency APS said, listing 27 ministers.

Central bank Governor Mohamed Loukal was named as finance minister, while the former head of the state power and gas utility Mohamed Arkab will be energy minister, APS said.

Sabri Boukadoum, a former envoy to the United Nations, becomes foreign minister and replaces Ramtane Lamamra, who spent less than a month in the role.

Army chief of staff, Lieutenant General Ahmed Gaed Salah kept his position as deputy defense minister in the reshuffle, according to state media. Bouteflika kept his title as defense minister.

Bouteflika also named the communications minister, Hassane Rabhi, as government spokesman, a rarely filled post in what critics say has been a secretive administration.

The reshuffle was followed by a report that Bouteflika may resign this week after mass protests and pressure from the army demanding he end his 20-year rule, the private Ennahar and El Bilad TV channels said.

Bouteflika, who has rarely been in public since suffering a stroke in 2013, might announce his resignation on Tuesday, Ennahar TV said, citing political sources. El Bilad TV, quoting unnamed sources, said he would quit this week.

Ennahar said Bouteflika was preparing his resignation in accordance with article 102 of the constitution, which allows him to quit or face the verdict of the constitutional council whether he is still fit for office.

State media did not report similar reports, and there was no immediate comment from the presidency.

The reports come after Salah, renewed a call on Saturday for the Constitutional Council to declare the ailing 82-year-old Bouteflika unfit to rule.

Seeking to defuse the demonstrations, Bouteflika said on March 11 he was dropping plans for a fifth term. But he stopped short of stepping down immediately, to wait for a national conference on political change.

That further enraged protesters, prompting Salah to step in by proposing last week to ask the constitutional council to see whether he is still fit for office.

Late on Sunday, hundreds took to the streets in the capital, Algiers, to demand Bouteflika go, according to residents and pictures posted on social media.

Demonstrators have rejected military intervention in civilian matters and want to dismantle the entire ruling elite, which includes veterans from the war of independence against France, army officers, the ruling party and business tycoons.

Tens of thousands have taken to the streets of Algiers for more than a month, complaining of corruption, nepotism and economic mismanagement they say has tarnished Bouteflika’s rule.

But two opposition leaders have supported the army initiative.

“The merit of this approach is that it responds to a pressing popular demand,” Ali Benflis, a former head of the ruling FLN party, said in a party statement. “We are facing a political, constitutional and institutional crisis.”

Abderazak Makri, head of an Islamist party, said he was against anything that threatened the stability and unity of the country or undermined the military.

Several close allies, including some members of the ruling FLN and union leaders, have abandoned Bouteflika.

The secretary-general of the United Nations said on Sunday he welcomed efforts towards a peaceful and democratic transition in Algeria.

Addressing an Arab League summit in Tunis, Antonio Guterres said any steps should be made in a way “that addresses the concerns of the Algerian people in a timely way”.

Also Sunday, a top Algerian businessman was arrested at an Algerian border post as he was apparently trying to go to Tunisia, Algerian media reported.

Journalists at tycoon Ali Haddad's private television channel Dzair News said he was arrested overnight in Oum Tboul, close to the Tunisian border.

Haddad, long a backer of Bouteflika, resigned this week as head of Algeria's Business Forum, apparently trying to distance himself from the unpopular leader.

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