Algeria’s ailing President Abdelaziz Bouteflika resigned on Tuesday, succumbing to six weeks of largely peaceful mass protests driven by youth and pressure from the powerful army against his 20-year rule.
Hundreds took to the streets of the capital Algiers after the announcement of the 82-year-old’s departure, capping protests which called for the removal of an elite seen by many as out of touch with ordinary people and presiding over an economy driven by cronyism.
Earlier in the day, army chief of staff Lieutenant General Ahmed Gaed Salah demanded the veteran ruler, who has been long in poor health, be declared immediately unfit for office.
State TV later showed a frail-looking Bouteflika, dressed in a traditional winter robe, handing his resignation letter to the head of a constitutional council. Also present was Abdelkader Bensalah, chairman of the upper house of parliament, who will run the country for 90 days until elections are held.
“I have taken this step because I am keen to put an end to the current bickering,” Bouteflika said in a letter released on state media, using his main means of communication since suffering a stroke in 2013 and largely disappearing from public view.
Western powers, some of which had demanded a peaceful solution, will be relieved that Bouteflika has quit, valuing stability in the OPEC oil producer, which is also a key gas supplier for Europe and partner to fight militants.
Analysts say it was unclear whether the demonstrations will end, however. They were started initially to protest Bouteflika’s plan to seek a fifth mandate but then widened to include calls from some youth and lawyers for wider reforms.
As Bouteflika’s grip on power started to loosen over recent days, some protesters began shifting their focus to rejecting a caretaker government appointed on Sunday.
The lineup included respected technocrats but was headed by Prime Minister Noureddine Bedoui, who the opposition said was too close to the ruling elite dominated by business tycoons and veteran fighters of the 1954-62 independence war with France.
“What is important to us is that we do not accept the (caretaker) government,” Mustapha Bouchachi, a lawyer and protest leader, told Reuters before Bouteflika quit. “Peaceful protests will continue.”