Algeria’s ruling FLN party and the military announced on Wednesday their support for protests against President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, in the greatest blow yet to the ailing ruler.
The National Liberation Front party, known by its French acronym FLN, sided with the protesters after a meeting of its top officials.
“FLN fully supports the popular protest movement,” the APS state news agency quoted FLN leader Moad Bouchared as saying.
The party also called for negotiations to ensure stability in Algeria, a major oil and gas producer.
“There is a need to work devoutly and advocate unified dialogue,” Bouchared added, according to APS.
Earlier, army Chief of Staff Lieutenant General Ahmed Gaed Salah said that a month of demonstrations had been “marked by the deeds of noble aims and pure intentions, through which the Algerian people has clearly expressed its values and principles of sincere and dedicated work to Allah and the motherland”.
The comments, made on Tuesday during a tour of a military district and carried by Algerian media on Wednesday, were the clearest signal yet that the army was distancing itself from Bouteflika, in power for 20 years.
Bouteflika, 82, bowed to the protesters last week by reversing plans to stand for a fifth term. But he stopped short of stepping down and said he would stay in office until a new constitution is adopted, effectively extending his present term.
His moves have done nothing to placate protesters pushing for a new generation to take over from Bouteflika and other veterans of the 1954-1962 independence war against France who have dominated the country.
Leaders who have emerged from the protest movement have not yet built up enough momentum to force him to quit or make more concessions. But the position of the army chief of staff and the FLN could make his position untenable.
The military, which wields enormous power from behind the scenes, has patiently watched the struggle from the sidelines, while making it clear that chaos would not be tolerated.
The president has rarely been seen in public since suffering a stroke five years ago, and the protesters say a shadowy circle of aides, including his powerful younger brother Said, have been ruling the country in his name.
Bouteflika sent Deputy Prime Minister Ramtane Lamamra on a tour of allied countries to seek support for efforts to defuse the crisis.
In Berlin, Lamamra said Bouteflika would hand over power to a democratically elected successor after a new constitution has been approved and a national conference on the way forward has been held.
The Algerian government is "ready for dialogue" with demonstrators, he added. "As I see it, the demonstrations have only grown more numerous, and there will be no solution except through dialogue."
"The Algerian government is ready for dialogue, and beyond that, they are prepared to welcome the representatives of the opposition and civil society in the new government which is currently being formed."