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After Decades In Power, Algeria's Ailing President Says He Will Step Down

Apr 1, 2019
Originally published on April 1, 2019 6:29 pm
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After decades in power, Algeria's ailing president says he will step down. He had planned to seek a fifth term this month. That news had sparked weeks of protests around the country, protests led by Algeria's youth. And NPR's Eleanor Beardsley has more.

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: A communique released by the president's office said Abdelaziz Bouteflika would step down before his mandate ends on April 28. Bouteflika has rarely been seen in public since he suffered a stroke in 2013. The hero of the 1962 war for independence from France was elected president in 1999 on a promise to keep peace after a brutal civil war between Islamists and the army killed as many as 200,000 people.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT ABDELAZIZ BOUTEFLIKA: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: In one famous interview from 20 years ago, Bouteflika crows that he is Algeria. "I am the total incarnation of the Algerian people," he says. But Bouteflika also became part of the country's opaque and corrupt power system that included top businessmen and the military, who share the spoils of the country's vast oil and gas wealth. Neila Latrous is deputy editor of weekly magazine Jeune Afrique, or Young Africa, published in Paris.

NEILA LATROUS: All this, it is called the system. And Algerian people accepted this because they were totally terrified after 10 years of terrorism.

BEARDSLEY: Scars from that decade of terror was one reason the Arab uprisings did not catch on in Algeria. But today, 40 percent of Algerians are under the age of 25. They did not live through the Black Decade, and all they've known is Bouteflika, says Latrous.

LATROUS: They have, also, Twitter, Facebook, all these social medias. And they see how young people live in other countries.

BEARDSLEY: She says the gap between the country's aging rulers and its youth is glaring. Like, when you need to renew your passport or get a driver's license, you have to send a fax.

LATROUS: So you are young people, and you see this technocracy, this army, these politics working like this. You feel like your voice is not heard.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting in foreign language).

BEARDSLEY: The protests that broke out in February have continued to strengthen, attracting people of all ages and from all walks of life. Latrous doesn't believe Bouteflika's resignation will end the crisis. She says the army has run the country since its independence, and it's not likely to give up power so easily. Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Paris. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.