Algeria: President urged to step down

Lawmakers from Algeria's ruling National Liberation Front (FLN) have demanded the resignation of President Abd al-Aziz Bouteflika.

    Algerian deputies are furious at the crackdown on the FLN

    The officials called on him

     to

    stand down "because he represents a threat to the stability of our

    country, a danger to public order and security, and an insult to the

    dignity of the Algerian people and the sovereignty of elected

    assemblies".

    Their call came a day after police broke

    up an anti-Bouteflika demonstration outside parliament amid a

    widening rift within the FLN as presidential elections loom in

    April.

    Scores of protesters demonstrated on Sunday against a court ruling

    last week which froze the FLN's activities and funding.

    The ruling also nullified

    the results of a party congress that re-elected former head of

    government Ali Benflis as the party's secretary general.

    Bouteflika has lost the ruling
    party's backing

    The party congress broadened Benflis' powers while

    dropping its backing of Bouteflika, whose election in 1999

    was marred by the withdrawal of six other

    candidates alleging massive fraud.

    Election fraud

    Bouteflika, who has not yet said whether he will seek

    re-election, sacked Benflis as head of government eight months ago.

    This 

    sparked the rift in the FLN which has since deepened, pitting the

    president's backers against those of his former head of government

    and right-hand man.

    Sunday's protest was blocked by riot police 300 metres

    from the National Assembly. From the barricades the

    protesters shouted support for Benflis, who is running for president

    in April.

    The protesters also called for a "Free and Democratic Algeria"

    and chanted anti-Bouteflika slogans.

    They called the president a

    "dictator" and a "traitor" as the riot police and a few passers-by

    looked on.

    FLN lawmaker Abd al-Aziz Chalabi

    had a mild heart attack when he was jostled by police who moved in

    to disperse the demonstrators.

    A dozen protesters were also slightly injured, witnesses said.

    Anti-Bouteflika demonstration

    Benflis was sacked by Bouteflika
    eight months ago

    Supporters said earlier on Monday that while Chalabi's condition

    had improved, he was still under observation at Mustapha hospital in

    Algiers.

    Meanwhile, newspapers and diplomats in Algeria have warned that

    Sunday's unrest could be a harbinger of incidents to come in the

    run-up to the elections.

    "Serious clashes could take place between the two sides if the

    presidential clan decides to organise 'spontaneous demonstrations'

    to show their backing for the president, as it is in the habit of

    doing," a Western diplomat said.

    The papers recalled demonstrations in May and June 1991, when

    backers of the now banned Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) staged

    several days of street protests in Algiers which degenerated into

    running battles with the security forces

    .

    Algeria plunged into civil war in 1992 when elections which the

    FIS was poised to win were cancelled by the government. At least

    150,000 people have died in the war.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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