Thousands of protesters filled the streets of Algeria’s capital Friday demanding the resignation of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika.
Security forces fired water cannons in an attempt to disperse the huge crowds that gathered in Algiers during the sixth consecutive day of marches in the city.
Protesters are calling for the 81-year-old leader to relinquish power under a provision in the constitution stating that if the health of the president does not allow him to carry out his function, then the office is to be declared vacant.
It is widely believed in Algeria that Bouteflika is incapacitated by illness and has left the reins of the country in the hands of a civilian-military elite.
Article 102 stipulates that in the case of the president’s inability to carry out his duties due to a serious or chronic illness, the head of the national assembly should take his place for a period of no more than 45 days.
Earlier this week, the country’s army chief called the protesters’ demands “legitimate.”
“To resolve the crisis (in the country) right now, the implementation of Article 102 is necessary and is the only guarantee to maintain a peaceful political situation,” said Gen. Ahmed Gaid Salah.
“These protests have continued up till now in a peaceful and civilized way … and could be exploited by parties with bad intentions inside and outside of Algeria,” the general added.
Some members of the opposition and protest organizers are also calling for change beyond the office of the presidency.
Mohcine Belabbas, head of the liberal Rally for Culture and Democracy party, said Wednesday that the current situation goes beyond the question of activating Article 102.
“Article 102 should have been activated years ago because this President has been ill for years and has been incapable of performing his duties for years,” Belabbas said. “Attempting to activate Article 102 is a political maneuver from within the regime in a bid to save the regime.”
Bouteflika, who was elected in 1999, suffered a stroke in 2013 and has rarely been seen in public since then. He announced his intention to seek a fifth term February 10 in a statement published by the state news agency.
The move sparked anger on Algerian streets and ignited a countrywide string of protests.
After weeks of demonstrations against his candidacy, it was announced on March 11 that Bouteflika will not seek a fifth term in office and the April 18 elections would be postponed.