Amid street protests, Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika vowed not to serve a full term if re-elected for the 5th time. The so-called "living dead" leader is rarely seen in public. His pledge was made in a letter.
Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika has promised to call for new elections within one year if re-elected in April, Algerian state television said on Sunday.
The ailing president has ruled the country since 1999 and is preparing a fifth run despite ill health. His plans triggered days of mass protests across Algeria when they were announced last month. The latest, on Sunday, saw thousands take to the streets in Algiers and other cities across the country.
"I have heard the pleas of protesters and especially thousands of young people who asked about our nation's future," Bouteflika wrote in a letter read out on state TV.
He pledged he would organize a "national conference" within the first year of his fifth term, and the conference would then set up early polls with him not running.
The conference would decide on a new election date, he said, according to the written statement read by his campaign manager and Transport Minister Abdelghani Zaalene. The vote would ensure a smooth transition of power in "calm circumstances, and in an atmosphere of freedom and transparency."
Ennahar TV added that the fresh election would be held within a year of this April's vote.
Protests reach Paris
Algerian security forces used water cannon and tear gas to disperse the crowd of mostly students in downtown Algiers on Sunday. Some of the protesters managed to break through the security cordon and march to the nearby Constitutional Council, demanding that the body reject the Bouteflika candidacy. The deadline for registering candidates was set to expire at midnight.
A crowd of mostly students in the center of the capital chanted "Bouteflika go away!" A diplomatic source cited by the AFP news agency estimated some 70,000 people gathered in the capital
"We will not stop until we get rid of this system," said Aicha, a 23-year-old student.
There were reports of similar demonstrations taking place in towns and cities throughout the country. Thousands of Algerians also protested in Paris and other French cities.
At least one protester was killed in clashes with police earlier this week.
Confusion over whether Bouteflika needs to show up
Despite the protests, Bouteflika's team managed to file the papers confirming he would seek re-election, according to the official APS news agency and a report from a private Ennahar TV station cited by Reuters.
Previously, the APS published Bouteflika's asset declaration, which is another requirement to take part in the race.
However, Reuters also cited the head of election commission Abdelwahab Derbal as saying that every candidate was obliged to present the candidacy papers in person.
This could be an insurmountable obstacle for the ailing leader, who is currently receiving medical care in Switzerland.
Bouteflika has remained in power for two decades by pushing twice for constitutional amendments in order to run for another term. All but one of his elections has been marred by accusations of widespread fraud or voter suppression.
The 'living dead' president
Now 82 years old, the wheelchair-bound leader is rarely seen in public. He left Algeria last week for "routine medical checks."
His last televised speech to the nation was broadcast in June 2017. Last month, German Chancellor Angela Merkel had to cancel her trip to Algeria when Bouteflika, who is frequently ill, was reportedly suffering a lung infection. According to The Economist, critics joke that he is the "living dead" president.
While Algeria did experience some Arab Spring-inspired protests in 2011, the government was able to avoid the unrest that followed in many other countries by financing widespread wage increases across the country using the national oil and gas revenues.
Brother: Protester killed by the 'ruling gang'
When he announced on February 10 that he would be seeking a fifth term, demonstrators began organizing on social media to demand he finally step down. People called for his photo to be taken down from administrative buildings and a large poster of him was ripped down in Algiers.
On Friday, Hassan Ben Khedda, the son of a late Algerian politician, died during a protest in Algiers. The government issued a statement saying his death would be investigated, but his brother said Hassan Ben Khedda, who was in his 50s, had been killed by the "ruling gang and its thugs."
At least 56 police officers and 183 civilians have been injured in the protests, and 45 people have been arrested, according to Algeria's security services.
es,dj/jm (dpa, Reuters,AFP)