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Algeria parliament names interim leader after protests

Storyline:National News, World


ALGIERS, Algeria (AP) — Algeria’s parliament named an interim leader Tuesday to replace former President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who resigned last week under pressure from pro-democracy protesters . Police fired tear gas and water cannons at student demonstrators gathered in the capital for a seventh week.

The protest movement that drove the leader out after two decades in power had demanded the ouster of the country’s entire political hierarchy, including the newly named interim president, Abdelkader Bensalah, a key ally of Bouteflika and the leader of parliament’s upper chamber.

As called for by the Algerian Constitution, Bensalah was named as interim leader for a maximum of 90 days until a new election can be organized. He can’t run for the post himself. Members of the opposition abstained from Tuesday’s vote.

“I am required by national duty to take on this heavy responsibility of steering a transition that will allow the Algerian people to exercise its sovereignty,” Bensalah said.

Algeria’s powerful army chief, Gen. Ahmed Gaid Salah, was due to speak later Tuesday. Gaid Salah had pulled his support for Bouteflika last week, tipping the balance. The military chief of staff’s response to Tuesday’s decision was paramount to the future of the gas-rich country.

Bensalah is one of three figures appointed by Bouteflika to key posts that protesters are demanding leave, dubbing them the “three Bs.” The others are Noureddine Bedoui, appointed last month as head of government, and the head of the Constitutional Council, Tayeb Belaiz.

Bensalah, 77, has cultivated a low-key profile despite holding numerous positions over the past quarter-century. With a career as a devoted public servant, he has no political weight, and his powers as transitional leader are reduced.

Bedoui has a starkly different profile. He was among the early promoters of a fifth mandate for the ailing Bouteflika — the trigger for the crisis. Mohamed Saidj, a political science professor, says that as interior minister Bedoui also was behind forbidding doctors and human rights organizations from protesting.

As for Belaiz, “everyone knows that he is Bouteflika’s man,” Saidj said in a recent interview.