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 presidential elections — but faced pressure from authorities and divisions within the country’s democratic movement.
Opposition former Prime Minister Ali Benflis, Islamist party leaders, union activists, academics, journalists and others were among those holding a conference Saturday in the seaside resort of Bainem, 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.
Organizers want the conference to produce a 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.
Some conference participants demanded the release of people detained for political reasons.
A key question is what role the powerful military will plan in Algeria’s political future. Benflis called for an “inclusive, global political dialogue.”