Bouteflika asks forgiveness as Algerians demand more change

Ex-leader seeks forgiveness for 'any failing' towards Algerian people as civil society groups call for more protests.

    In this image from state TV, Abdelaziz Bouteflika presents his resignation to president of Constitutional Council [ENTV via AP]
    In this image from state TV, Abdelaziz Bouteflika presents his resignation to president of Constitutional Council [ENTV via AP]

    Algeria's former President Abdelaziz Bouteflika has apologised to his compatriots in a public farewell letter a day after he stepped down following weeks of mass protests and loss of support from the army.

    In the letter released by the APS news agency on Wednesday, the ailing 82-year-old said he was "proud" of his contribution to the country, and urged the Algerian people to "stay united".

    "I ask your forgiveness for any failing towards you," he wrote, adding: "I am leaving the political scene without sadness or fear, for the future of our country."

    The move came as Algeria's Constitutional Council said it had accepted Bouteflika's resignation and informed parliament that his post was officially vacant.

    Some 20 Algerian civil society groups said they would refuse a transition of power that kept the same structure in place, calling for protests on Friday for "democratic change".

    "Bouteflika's resignation ... is a first victory ... but it is not enough," they said in a joint statement.

    Algeria's constitution says that the speaker of the upper house of parliament, currently 77-year-old Abdelkader Bensalah, should now act as interim leader for up to 90 days during which a presidential election must be organised.

    A one-time journalist and former ambassador, Bensalah has held senior political positions for the past 25 years but has kept a low profile, rarely giving interviews or appearing at public events.

    He has led the country's upper house for most of Bouteflika's 20-year rule.

    Ali Benflis, a former head of the ruling National Liberation Front (FLN) party, said other leading figures should also quit, naming Bensalah, interim Prime Minister Noureddine Bedoui and constitutional council head Tayeb Belai.

    "The Algerian people have just closed one of the darkest chapters in the history of our country," he said in a statement, calling the protest a "peaceful popular revolution".

    Protesters, who celebrated Bouteflika's departure with songs and flag waving in the capital, Algiers on Tuesday night, also made quickly clear that they would not accept a new president from the entrenched elite. 

    "I want my daughter to remember this historic day. Bouteflika's gone, but it's far from over," said 35-year-old Amal, who wore a T-shirt with the slogan "I am against the system".

    She vowed to march again on Friday.

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    For 44-year-old engineer Hamid Boumaza, Bouteflika's resignation was "too little, too late".

    "Bouteflika's departure is no longer enough. We want them all to go. We want full freedom and we will march for as long as necessary."

    Meanwhile, Antonio Guterres, secretary-general of the United Nations, praised "the mature and calm nature in which the Algerian people have been expressing their desire for change". 

    A UN statement said Guterres "looks forward to a peaceful and democratic transition process that reflects the wishes of the Algerian people". 

    The United States said the future of the country "is for the Algerian people to decide", while Russia called for a transition without foreign "interference".

    Jean-Yves Le Drian, the foreign minister of former colonial power France, said he was confident Algeria's "democratic transition" could continue "in the same spirit of calm and responsibility" seen in recent weeks.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies