Hundreds of students and doctors rallied in Algiers on Tuesday calling for President Abdelaziz Bouteflika to quit, as a new group headed by activists and opposition figures told the powerful army not to interfere in the campaign.
In the first direct message to the army from leaders emerging from nearly a month of mass protests against Bouteflika, the National Coordination for Change said the military should “play its constitutional role without interfering in the people’s choice”.
Students massed in the centre of the capital while doctors began a protest march nearby. “We will not stop our pressure until he (Bouteflika) goes,” said student Ali Adjimi, 23.
Generals have traditionally wielded power from behind the scenes in Algeria but have publicly intervened during pivotal moments.
Soldiers have stayed in their barracks since the recent protests erupted. But on Monday, Chief of Staff Lieutenant-General Ahmed Gaed Salah said that military should take responsibility for finding a quick solution to the crisis, in the most overt signal of potential military intervention.
The protest leaders issued their statement titled “Platform of Change” late on Monday, demanding that Bouteflika step down before the end of his term on April 28 and the government resign immediately.
Protesters have been calling for a generation of new leaders to replace a ruling elite dominated by veterans of the 1954-1962 war of independence against France, the military and big businessmen with ties to the establishment.
Algerian authorities have always been adept at manipulating a weak and disorganised opposition.
But the mass demonstrations – which peaked on Friday with hundreds of thousands of people on the streets of Algiers – have emboldened well-known figures to lead the drive for reforms in the North African country.
Prominent members of the new group include lawyer and activist Mustapha Bouchachi, opposition leader Karim Tabou and former treasury minister Ali Benouari, as well as Mourad Dhina and Kamel Guemazi, who belong to an outlawed Islamist party.
Zoubida Assoul, leader of a small political party, is the only woman in the group so far.
Bouteflika, rarely seen in public since a stroke in 2013, has failed to ease anger on the streets by reversing a decision to seek a fifth term, postponing an election and planning a conference that will chart a new political future.
He stopped short of stepping down, and effectively prolonged his fourth term.
“Bouteflika just trampled on the constitution after he decided to extend his fourth term,” said the National Coordination for Change.
Russia warns of attempts to destabilise situation in Algeria
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Tuesday that Russia was concerned by protests in Algeria and saw attempts underway to destabilise the situation in the North African country.
Lavrov made the comments before talks in Moscow with Algeria’s Deputy Prime Minister, Ramtane Lamamra.