The United States said Tuesday it supports the right of the Algerian people to “free and fair elections,” amid fears that President Abdelaziz Bouteflika is seeking to prolong his two-decade rule.
In a surprise announcement Monday, the ailing 82-year-old Bouteflika said he would not stand for a fifth term — but also cancelled next month’s presidential election in the North African country.
“We support the rights of the Algerian people to vote in free and fair elections,” State Department spokesman Robert Palladino said, after thousands of protesters returned to the streets of Algiers on Tuesday.
Palladino did not directly address Bouteflika’s decision, simply saying: “We’re closely monitoring reports that Algeria’s elections have been postponed.”
“We support efforts in Algeria to charter a new path forward based on dialogue that reflects the will of all Algerians and their aspirations for a peaceful and prosperous future,” he said.
“We respect the rights of the Algerians to assemble and peacefully express their views.”
The thousands of Algerian students who protested on Tuesday in Algiers and other major cities like Oran denounced what they called Bouteflika’s “tricks” — and an attempt to simply extend his fourth term.
Bouteflika has said that a “national conference” will determine a new date for the presidential election, which had been set for April 18.
The veteran leader uses a wheelchair and has rarely appeared in public since suffering a stroke in 2013. Demonstrators have rallied for weeks demanding his resignation.