Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika resigned Tuesday hours after the nation’s army chief demanded his removal and following weeks of mass protests, according to the north African country’s state-run media.
The ailing 82-year-old Bouteflika said in a letter to the Constitutional Council, published by the Algeria Press Service, that his resignation would go into immediate effect.
“This decision … is intended to contribute to easing the hearts and minds of my compatriots and to enable them to plan together for a better future for Algeria, which they legitimately aspire to,” he said.
“This decision is … to prevent that the verbal excesses that unintentionally mark the situation turn into potentially dangerous drifts, and for the protection of persons and property which is the main prerogatives of the state,” he said, alluding to the protests that have dogged the last few months of his 20-year presidency.
The nation had been taking to the streets in protest of the octogenarian’s rule since late February when he announced that he would be running for a fifth term.
However, protests continued following his withdrawal from the April 18 election, which was then indefinitely postponed, in demand of his immediate removal and continued after he offered Monday to step down on April 28, the end of his term.
In a televised speech aired Tuesday, Algeria’s army chief Lt. Gen. Ahmed Gaid Salah demanded that the president be removed from office or he would pursue launching a constitutional procedure to declare Bouteflika — a wheelchair-bound autocrat who had been rarely seen in public since suffering a stroke in 2013 — unfit to rule.
“We believe that there is no longer need to waste further time and that the proposed constitutional solution … must be implemented immediately,” he said, adding, “So our decision is clear and irrevocable — we will support the people until their demands are fully and completely satisfied.”
Bouteflika resigned hours later, bringing to an end Algeria’s longest presidency, which began in 1999.
“May God Almighty be a witness of the initiatives and the actions I have taken, and the efforts and the sacrifices I have made to live up to the trust which my fellow countrymen have placed in me” he said, adding, “I wish all the best to the Algerian people.”
Abdelkader Bensalah, chairman of the upper house of parliament and Bouteflika’s ally, will take over the country’s helm until elections will be held.
Protests are expected to continue as the public worries that with members of the old guard still in power, democracy may still be out of arms’ reach.
Image: Abdelaziz Bouteflika, President of Algeria, speaks at the 64th United Nations General Assembly in the UN building in New York City on September 23, 2009