Robert HARNEIS -TDO- (FRANCE) - Algeria's President Abdelaziz Bouteflika will not run for a fifth term.However, elections due for April 18 are postponed with no new date set. The surprise announcement follows weeks of mass protests across the country.

Bouteflika, in a message carried by national news agency APS, said a presidential poll would follow a national conference on political and constitutional reform to be carried out by the end of 2019.A new constitution would be submitted to the public for a referendum.

The announcement was immediately followed by a government reshuffle, with Noureddine Bedoui replacing Ahmed Ouyahia as Algeria’s new prime minister. Ramtane Lamamra was appointed the country’s new deputy prime minister.

Over the past few weeks, tens of thousands of people from all social classes have been demonstrating almost daily against Bouteflika's decision to stand in the election, rejecting a stale political system dominated by veterans of an independence war against France that ended in 1962. The protests have also spread to France, Canada and other Western countries that are home to an Algerian diaspora.

Bouteflika, 82, has ruled for 20 years but has rarely been seen in public since suffering a stroke in 2013. His opponents say they do not believe he is in a fit state to run the country, and suspected he was being kept in place to protect the grip of the military and business elite.

According to France24, following the announcement on state media, Bouteflika on Monday evening met with Army Chief of Staff Lieutenant General Gaed Salah and veteran Algerian diplomat Lakhdar Brahimi."The voice of the people has been heard," Brahimi, a former Algerian foreign minister and UN special envoy, said on state TV after meeting the ailing president. "Young people who took to the streets acted responsibly and gave a good image of the country. We must turn this crisis into a constructive process."

Political sources said the military would almost certainly play a leading role in Algeria’s transition process, and are already assessing three or four civilian figures who could be suitable for the presidency.Brahimi, a well-known diplomat on the international stage and an old friend of Bouteflika, could be viewed by the military as a guarantor of stability, according to political analysts.

FRANCE 24’s Meriem Amellal said the news was also received by a measure of caution in some quarters. “You see people celebrating on the streets because it’s a kind of victory, the regime has listened to them and given them an answer, which is a first step,” said Amellal. “But there appears to be two different interpretations: either you interpret it as President Bouteflika will not run for a fifth term, or you can say he will extend his fourth term and this is not good news for the Algerian people.”

The dramatic announcements came a day after the ailing octogenarian leader returned to Algeria from Switzerland, where he received treatment at a Geneva hospital.More than 1,000 judges said on Monday they would refuse to oversee the election if Bouteflika stood. Clerics said they would not accept government orders about what to preach.The protests have shattered years of political inertia and unsettled Algeria's opaque but powerful security establishment.

The secretive military-based establishment known to Algerians as "le pouvoir" (the powers-that-be) appears to have stood aside while the demonstrations have taken place. Security forces have been mostly restrainedin the clearest indication yet that the country’s powerful generals sympathize with protesters, the chief of staff said the military and the people had a united vision of the future, state TV reported over the weekend.

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