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Former Algerian president says he turned down offer to lead post-Bouteflika transition

Liamine Zeroual said that he was contacted by the former head of Algeria’s defunct Intelligence and Security Department to head the country's transitional government
Zeroual has said he has rejected any political proposals given to him and called for a change in leadership since 2014 (Screengrab)

Former Algerian President Liamine Zeroual revealed on Tuesday that he had been offered to lead a transitional government upon the resignation of current president Abdelaziz Bouteflika, but that he had turned the proposal down.

In a statement sent to a number of Algerian news outlets, including El Khabar, Zeroual said that he was contacted by Mohammed Mediene - the shadowy former head of Algeria’s defunct Intelligence and Security Department (DRS) widely known as General Toufik - on Saturday, with the green light from the outgoing president’s brother and advisor, Said Bouteflika.

“I expressed to my interlocutor my trust in the millions of demonstrators, and I insisted on the necessity of not impeding the popular movement that has retaken control of its destiny,” Zeroual’s statement read.

“Since 2004 I have refused all political proposals, suggesting each time an alternation of power in favour of new generations, who have all my trust and encouragement.”

Since his stroke in April 2013, Bouteflika has been wheelchair-bound and struggling with speech. While officially continuing to perform his duties, Bouteflika has disappeared from public view, fuelling rumours claiming he was dead and speculation about his ability to lead the country.

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Hundreds of thousands of Algerians have taken to the streets since 22 February to protest against Bouteflika running for a fifth term in office, calling for the removal of the president and the government.

While Bouteflika, 82, initially remained defiant against popular pressure by officially submitting his candidacy to the election, he then dropped out of the race, only to cancel the vote altogether on 11 March.

On Monday, the elderly head of state announced that he would step down by 28 April, the official end of his term, after 20 years in office.

Bouteflika’s planned departure by the end of the month has left open the question of a transition of power - as many critics have pointed out that the long-term leader was only the figurehead of an Algerian “deep state”.

Zeroual was Algeria’s fourth president between 1994 and 1999, in the middle of a decade-long civil war that wracked the country. He declined to run again at the end of his mandate. Bouteflika was elected in 1999 with three-quarter of the votes after all other candidates dropped out of the race over concerns of fraud.

Zeroual, a general unlike his successor, turned down requests to run against Bouteflika in both 2009 and 2014 elections.

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