Thousands of people rallied in Algiers on Tuesday calling on President Abdelaziz Bouteflika to quit, keeping up the pressure in weeks of protests that threaten to topple him and the elderly elite that has helped keep him in power for 20 years.
Bouteflika, among the veterans of the 1954-62 war of independence against France who continue to dominate Algeria, has bowed to protesters by reversing a decision to seek another term and putting off elections that had been set for April.
But Bouteflika stopped short earlier this month of quitting as head of state and said he would stay on until a new constitution is adopted, effectively extending his current term.
The move failed to placate hundreds of thousands of Algerians who have taken to the streets for nearly five weeks to demand that Bouteflika step down.
“The system must go. There is no point for it in resisting,” said Belkacem Abidi, 25, one of about 6,000 protesters, mostly students, who gathered in downtown Algiers on Tuesday.
Even if Bouteflika is pushed out, Algerians could face uncertainty for some time before a new president emerges to head the vast North African country, a major oil and gas producer.
One of the most important factors is the position of the powerful military, which could act as kingmaker, as it has done in past decades. So far, the chief of staff has distanced the army from Bouteflika and praised the protesters.
Any direct action to help Algerians oust him could be perceived as a military coup by an institution which prefers to manipulate politics from behind the scenes.
Some important partners such as members of his ruling party and business tycoons have abandoned Bouteflika, deepening the isolation of an 82-year-old leader who has rarely been seen in public since suffering a stroke in 2013.
“I’m optimistic that our pressure will change things peacefully,” said architect Noureddine Bahi, 52.