Algerian prime minister promises new government in days

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ALGIERS, Algeria (AP) — Algeria’s new prime minister promised Thursday to create a government within days and to respond to the demands of protesting youth, a day before planned nationwide protests that could further crank up the pressure on authorities.

As the country faces mounting calls for President Abdelaziz Bouteflika to step down, Prime Minister Noureddine Bedoui told a news conference that the government would be in place by early next week and will include a combination of young people and more experienced members.

He called upon all sides to build trust and cooperate in order to overcome the crisis shaking the gas-rich country, which is an important player in the global fight against Islamic extremism.

“We have understood the message from Algerian youth in the protests. We will from now on commit ourselves to responding,” he said.

Facing unprecedented pressure, the president agreed this week to abandon plans for a fifth term — but he also canceled a presidential election set for April 18, raising fears he will stay in power indefinitely.

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Bouteflika’s undertaking failed to satisfy protesters, who will hold major protests for the fourth Friday running. The streets were packed last week with tens of thousands of protesters in the capital and numerous other cities.

The prime minister gave no indication of when Algeria might have new elections. But he expressed optimism that “we can get out of the transition phase rather quickly” if there’s a spirit of dialogue.

Bedoui was interior minister before the president named him this week to head a new government meant to calm tensions. Bouteflika also ordered the creation of a special body tasked with drafting a new constitution and paving the way for new elections.

The prime minister praised the “peaceful nature” of the protests that started a month ago, but said security forces will remain present “to protect property and people.”

Algerians question Bouteflika’s fitness for office since a 2013 stroke left him largely hidden from public view.

Lakhdar Brahimi, a renowned diplomat, described Bouteflika as mentally sound after meeting with him Wednesday.

He said the president has “100 percent of his mental capacities” and that he has use of his hands, if not his legs, pushing back on rumors about the poor state of Bouteflika’s condition. Wheel-chair bound, he has rarely been seen in public since his stroke.

The protests also reflect deep-seated frustrations at Algeria’s shady power structure, with millions struggling to make ends meet despite the country’s gas wealth.

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