Algeria's President Bouteflika announces new caretaker government
President Abdelaziz Bouteflika named a caretaker cabinet headed by recently appointed Prime Minister Noureddine Bedoui on Sunday, as he grapples with a political crisis following weeks of protests demanding he end his 20-year rule.
State television reported that Army Chief of Staff Ahmed Gaid Salah remained as deputy defence minister even after calling for Bouteflika to step down, while deputy prime minister Ramtane Lamamra was not listed in the new administration, AFP reported.
Faced with persistent public anger, a succession of veteran Bouteflika loyalists have deserted the president in recent days, Reuters said. Algerian newspaper El Khabar reported that business and political leaders in Bouteflika's entourage were selling their "most liquid assets", including luxury villas.
Political sources said the appointment of a caretaker government might be a signal that Bouteflika could resign, given pressure from the military and protesters.
Announcing the new cabinet, state television said Bouteflika had appointed central bank governor Mohamed Loukal as finance minister and Mohamed Arkab as energy minister. He also appointed Sabri Boukadoum as foreign minister to replace Ramtane Lamamra, who had taken up the post this month in another reshuffle. Bouteflika kept his title as defence minister.
Ailing Bouteflika, who has rarely been seen in public since a 2013 stroke, has come under mounting pressure to leave office since his decision to seek a fifth term sparked huge demonstrations.
Bouteflika said earlier this month he would pull out of the race and postponed April elections, in moves that angered Algerians who see it as a ploy to extend his two decades in power.
Algeria's army chief of staff, Salah, renewed a call on Saturday for the Constitutional Council to rule on whether the ailing 82-year-old Bouteflika was fit to rule, opening up the possibility of a managed exit.
Demonstrators have rejected military intervention in civilian matters and want to dismantle the entire ruling elite, which includes veterans from the war of independence against France, army officers, the ruling party and business tycoons.
Tens of thousands have taken to the streets of Algiers for more than a month, complaining of corruption, nepotism and economic mismanagement which they say has tarnished Bouteflika's 20-year rule.
Still, two opposition leaders have supported the army initiative.
"The merit of this approach is that it responds to a pressing popular demand," Ali Benflis, a former head of the ruling FLN party, said in a party statement. "We are facing a political, constitutional and institutional crisis."
Abderazak Makri, head of an Islamist party, said he was against anything that threatened the stability and unity of the country or undermined the military.
The UN Secretary-General said on Sunday he welcomed efforts towards a peaceful and democratic transition in Algeria.
Addressing an Arab League summit in Tunis, Antonio Guterres said any steps should be made in a way "that addresses the concerns of the Algerian people in a timely way".