Algeria’s ailing 82-year-old President Abdelaziz Bouteflika has resigned, according to a short statement published on Tuesday by the state-run Algeria Press Service.
“President of the Republic Abdelaziz Bouteflika has officially notified president of the Constitutional Council of his decision to end his term as President of the Republic,” said APS.
It’s an about-face for the elderly president, who earlier this year announced his intentions to run for a fifth term in the Algerian presidential elections. The prospect sparked mass protests in Algeria, ultimately forcing Bouteflika to back down and withdraw his candidacy. The government has since postponed the elections.
Bouteflika was first elected in 1999 with the backing of the military, in a race boycotted by all other candidates and widely panned as fraudulent. However, he won praise as a new president for steering his country back to stability after “the black decade” of the 1990s, when a bloody civil war left more than 150,000 dead.
He was elected again in 2004, 2009 and 2014 by wide margins, although often with criticism about the elections’ fairness.
After decades in power, the octogenarian’s health issues have recently raised concerns over who is actually making decisions in the President’s office. Bouteflika has rarely been seen in public since suffering a stroke in 2013.
Tuesday’s announcement comes after an earlier communiqué from the President’s office that said Bouteflika would step down before his term ended on April 28. It promised he would “take important measures to ensure the continuity of the functioning of the State institutions during the period of transition.”
Bouteflika’s resignation letter, released by APS, seemed to acknowledge protestors’ complaints, saying that the decision was “intended to contribute to easing the hearts and minds of my compatriots.” He also wrote that “this decision is triggered by my eagerness to prevent that the verbal excesses that unintentionally mark the situation turn into potentially dangerous drifts, and for the protection of persons and property which is the main prerogatives of the State.”
The announcement also comes one week after the country’s army chief called for Bouteflika to resign.
In a speech broadcast last Tuesday by private television station Ennahar, Gen. Gaïd Salah cited articles in the Algerian constitution stating that if the president’s health prevents him from carrying out his function, the presidential office must be declared vacant.
His call echoed the voices of protesters who have filled Algeria’s streets for weeks.