Thousands of protesters gathered in central Algiers on Friday, piling pressure on President Abdel Aziz Bouteflika to resign days after the country’s powerful military called for his removal.
The army chief of staff, Lieutenant General Ahmed Gaed Salah, had on Tuesday asked the constitutional council to rule whether the ailing 82-year-old president is fit for office.
Bouteflika, facing the biggest crisis of his 20-year-old rule, has failed to placate Algerians by reversing a decision to seek a fifth term.
“Streets pressure will continue until the system goes,” said student Mohamed Djemai, 25.
Protesters, who have been staging demonstrations since February 22, say they want to overthrow an entire political system and replace it with a new generation of leaders capable of modernising the oil-dependent state and giving hope to a population impatient for a better life.
Under Article 102, the Constitutional Council could determine the president is too ill to fully exercise his functions, and ask parliament to declare him unfit. Bouteflika has rarely been seen in public since suffering a stroke in 2013.
If a two-thirds majority of parliament’s lower and upper houses ratifies the council’s decision, the chairman of the upper house, Abdelkader Bensalah, would serve as caretaker president for at least 45 days.
The army chief is among the top power brokers in Algeria and his announcement could pave the way for Bouteflika’s removal.
The move came days after Hocine Khaldoun, spokesman for the ruling National Liberation Front (FLN), said he will ask the party to withdraw its support for Bouteflika’s proposal to hold a national conference aimed at getting the country out of its current political deadlock.
Protesters maintain pressure
On Tuesday, thousands of people returned to the streets of Algiers calling on Bouteflika to resign, keeping up popular pressure.
Following Salah’s announcement, some demonstrators expressed scepticism about the army chief’s plan.
Assyl Moulessehoul, a 24-year-old language student in Tlemcen, said on Tuesday it appeared to be a “soft military coup”.
“The army should not interfere in politics and should stay away from the ongoing political crisis. What we want is the regime to move from a military to a civilian rule,” he had told Al Jazeera.