ALGERIA’S ailing President Abdelaziz Bouteflika has been forced out of office by the country’s army following six weeks of mass protests.
He 82-year-old’s was ousted in the wake of the Arab Spring style demonstrations led by young people demanding change in the North African nation.
His departure was hastened when army chief of staff Lieutenant General Ahmed Gaed Salah demanded the veteran ruler be declared immediately unfit for office.
Bouteflika has largely disappeared from public view since suffering a stroke in 2013.
Hundreds of students marched early on Tuesday through the capital Algiers, many carrying banners which read “the army and the people are one” and “game over”.
They called for a new system in a country where more than one in four Algerians under the age of 30 – some 70 percent of the population – are unemployed.
Algeria has transformed during the protests, with people losing fear of criticizing the government and state media first ignoring and then, after a mutiny of reporters, covering the dissent.
Protests against his rule have drawn comparisons to the Arab Spring of 2011, when a wave of protests led to the overthrow of authoritarian leaders in Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen and Libya.
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State TV showed a frail-looking Bouteflika, dressed in a traditional winter robe, handing his resignation letter to the head of a constitutional council.
“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.
Also present was Abdelkader Bensalah, chairman of the upper house of parliament, who will run the country for 90 days until elections are held.
After news of his departure was released, jubilant Algerians took to the streets with their national flag to celebrate.
Experts say it was unclear whether the demonstrations will end with Bouteflika’s resignation.
They were started initially to protest against his plan to seek a fifth mandate but then widened to include calls 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.
“What is important to us is that we do not accept the (caretaker) government. Peaceful protests will continue,” said Mustapha Bouchachi, a lawyer and protest leader.
A veteran of Algeria’s war for independence and the only leader many Algerians have known, Bouteflika was first elected president in 1999.
He established himself by ending the country’s brutal civil war between the government and Islamists in which 200,000 are estimated to have died.
But supporters in the ruling FLN party and business people gradually abandoned Bouteflika.
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The military at first stayed in the barracks but step by step increased pressure, first only indirectly in an army magazine editorial saying the military shared the same vision as the people.
Then chief of staff Salah proposed last week to invoke a constitutional clause to remove Bouteflika on health grounds.
In another sign the end was approaching, several oligarchs close to his camp had been banned from travelling abroad in the past few days.
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