ALGIERS, Algeria (AP) — Prominent Algerians from various walks of life tried Saturday to craft a plan to pull their country out of political crisis and prepare for a presidential election — but faced pressure from authorities and divisions within the country’s democratic movement.
The participants in Saturday’s conference demanded the release of political prisoners and the departure of the current government, but praised the army for supporting the country’s uprising. The 600 participants at Saturday’s conference called for an independent body to supervise the election, whose date has yet to be fixed.
Opposition former Prime Minister Ali Benflis, Islamist party leaders, union activists, academics, journalists and others were among those at the conference Saturday in a seaside resort west of Algiers.
The meeting came a day after tens of thousands of Algerians held new protests Friday — the 20th straight week of demonstrations — amid extra-high security and resurgent anger at authorities in this gas- and oil-rich North African country.
The conference produced a sort of road map that would lead to presidential and parliamentary elections on the protesters’ terms. The country is in political limbo since a stunning revolt helped push out longtime President Abdelaziz Bouteflika in April.
However, some members of the protest movement say it’s too early to plan new elections, and want a new constitution and a transition period led by personalities outside the current regime first.
Several people refused invitations to take part in Saturday’s conference, including opposition leaders and the well-respected former President Liamine Zeroual.
Under pressure from authorities, the conference participants agreed to take out the expression “political transition” from the road map and replace it with “pre-electoral period.” They also dropped explicit demands that the interim president and prime minister step down, though maintained a demand for the departure of “all symbols of the old regime.”
They insisted that elections must be prepared by people totally independent from the existing powers-that-be. They also supported the idea of a national dialogue championed this week by interim leader Abdelkader Bensalah.
The conference’s road map will be submitted to the country’s acting leadership.
A key question is what role the powerful military will plan in Algeria’s political future.
Angela Charlton in Paris contributed.