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Middle East

Bouteflika seeks forgiveness from Algerians

Bouteflika seeks forgiveness from Algerians

ALGIERS: A day after Algeria’s Constitutional Council formalized Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s departure Wednesday from the office he held for two decades, the ex-president himself asked the Algerians people for forgiveness. He urged citizens in a farewell letter “to stay united, and never divide yourselves.”

A discreet, 77-year-old Bouteflika ally — the president of the upper house of the Algerian Parliament, Abdelkader Bensalah — is expected to take over as interim leader while Algeria plans elections. But that might further anger the protesters who drove Bouteflika from power, and who want to overhaul a political system seen as secretive, elitist and corrupt.

“Our session today is related to establishing the vacancy of the post of president of the republic, following the resignation of Mr. Abdelaziz Bouteflika yesterday,” said Constitutional Council President Tayeb Belaiz at Wednesday’s meeting.

The 12-member body then formally notified Parliament that Algeria no longer has a president. Both chambers of the national legislature are expected to meet to name the president of the upper house as interim leader for 90 days while elections are organized.

In the public farewell letter released Wednesday by state news agency APS, Bouteflika acknowledged that some of his actions as president were less than successful, writing: “I ask your forgiveness for any failing toward you.”

But he also said, “I am leaving the political scene without sadness or fear, for the future of our country.” He said he hoped Algeria’s new leaders take the nation to “horizons of progress and prosperity.”

Women and young people, who led the protest movement that pressured him out of office, are “the beating heart of our nation” and deserve special attention, Bouteflika wrote.

He notably praised those who fought alongside him for Algeria’s independence from colonial France and urged Algerians to live up to their example and honor their sacrifices.

Bensalah, the man expected to serve as interim leader, has led the upper house for most of Bouteflika’s four terms. A one-time journalist and former ambassador, Bensalah has held senior political positions for the past 25 years but has kept a low profile, rarely giving interviews or appearing at public events.

He’s known as a politician who works behind the scenes to strike compromises and solve problems, and who avoids controversial debates — and is very much part of the political elite.

Demonstrators worry that those who would play a role in the political transition are too close to the distrusted power structure, including Prime Minister Noureddine Bedoui, accused of contributing to fraud in the last presidential election in 2014 and cracking down on past protests.

However, the protest movement doesn’t have a single, unifying alternative to the current political system. Another question is what the influential military and Bouteflika’s entourage will do next. Military chief of staff Ahmed Gaid Salah appeared to trigger Bouteflika’s departure by pushing to get him declared unfit for office.

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