Algeria's interim president to hold talks with protest leaders

Thursday July 4, 2019
Algeria's interim president to hold talks with protest leaders

Algeria's General Gaid Salah 

Algeria's interim President Abdelkader Bensalah pledged in a speech Wednesday to hold talks without the involvement of the state or the military to pave the way for elections. 

"This dialogue... will be led freely and with total transparency by national independent figures who have credibility and who are not linked to any party," he said.

"The state in all its components, including the military, will not be party to this dialogue and will remain neutral throughout," he added.

The president urged all sides to drop "unrealistic requirements that are likely to prolong the current situation and drag our country into a... constitutional vacuum".

His speech comes just days before his interim mandate expires on July 9.

The country has been hit by months of protests that initially culminated in ailing president Abdelaziz Bouteflika stepping down in early April, after tens of thousands opposed his bid for a fifth term.

Army chief Ahmed Gaid Salah has emerged as a key powerbroker since Bouteflika was forced out.

Gaid Salah was an ally of the ailing president, but as pressure from demonstrators mounted he ultimately called for the long-time leader's impeachment.

Politicians and businessmen close to Bouteflika  -- including former prime ministers Abdelmalek Sellal and Ahmed Ouyahia -- have been arrested in a corruption probe.

But protesters have called for Gaid Salah himself to step down, along with other top figures they argue are tainted by their allegiance to Bouteflika during his 20-year rule.

They also want independent institutions to be established ahead of any election. 

An already delayed presidential election was postponed again early last month from a planned date of July 4, after only two potential runners -- both little known -- submitted their candidacies. 

Protesters have demanded the establishment of transitional bodies, free of Bouteflika-era officials, to push through reforms ahead of presidential elections.

Some in the opposition say any corruption probes should be the responsibility of a future government, fearing that regime factions could use them to settle scores.