New premier urges Algerians to accept dialogue

(Reuters) – Algeria’s new prime minister said on Thursday he would form a temporary government of technocrats and others to work toward political change in response to weeks of street protests, and he urged the opposition to join in a dialogue.

Noureddine Bedoui laid out his plans at a news conference in Algiers three days after ailing President Abelaziz Bouteflika announced his decision not to run for a fifth term that would have extended his 20 years in power.

Bouteflika’s offer came after tens of thousands of Algerians staged demonstrations demanding an overhaul of a stagnant political system dominated by veterans of the 1954-62 war of independence.

He delayed elections set for April and said a national conference would be held to discuss political change. However, Bouteflika stopped short of stepping down and many activists fear his move may be a ruse.

Prime Minister Bedoui, who replaced Ahmed Ouyahia on Monday, said the new government would be formed early next week.

“This government will have a short period, and its role is to be the support for the national conference and what Algerians agree upon,” he said.

It would be technocratic but also include young Algerians involved in the protest movement, including women, he said.

“The make-up will be one that represents all the forces and especially the youthful ones of the sons and daughters of our nation, so that we can meet the aspirations that the Algerian citizen expressed,” he said.

An independent commission will oversee the next presidential election, he said.

The prime minister urged the opposition to accept dialogue. But lawyers and activists who protesters have chosen to lead the drive for reforms are in no mood to compromise and have said they will not negotiate, at least for now.

The government on Wednesday declared itself ready for talks, saying it sought a ruling system based on “the will of the people” after opposition groups rejected proposed reforms as inadequate.

Bouteflika, who has not been seen in public since suffering a stroke in 2013, promised on Monday to work for a new era that would cater to all Algerians. But the initiative has failed to satisfy many Algerians who want power to move to a younger generation with fresh ideas.

People from all social classes have demonstrated over the last three weeks against corruption, unemployment and the ruling class. The protests have shaken up a long moribund political scene marked by decades of social and economic malaise and behind-the-scenes power-broking by an influential military establishment.

Young Algerians have no bond with the independence war except through their grandparents. Their priorities are to find jobs and better services that the North African country is failing to provide despite its oil and gas wealth.

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