ALGIERS - Ailing Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika strongly backed the army Tuesday following demands from the ruling party leader that the veteran military intelligence chief quit over alleged security failings.
ALGIERS – Ailing Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika strongly backed the army Tuesday following demands from the ruling party leader that the veteran military intelligence chief quit over alleged security failings.
It was Bouteflika’s first official response to the unprecedented public criticism of the secretive DRS military intelligence agency by National Liberation Front (FLN) leader Amar Saidani, a key supporter of the president standing for re-election in April.
It came in a letter of condolence to the armed forces and the bereaved over the deaths of 77 people — soldiers, family members and air crew — in the crash of a military transport aircraft in the mountainous northeast on Tuesday.
“We are certainly used to excesses from some circles every time elections near,” the president said.
“But this time the hounding has been on a scale our country has not seen since independence (in 1962), going so far as to seek to damage the unity of the People’s National Army and the country’s stability and image.
“No one has the right, whatever their position, to attack the People’s National Army and other state institutions.”
Bouteflika, 76 and in power for 15 years, has yet to say if his health will permit him to stand for a fourth term following a mini-stroke that confined him to hospital in Paris for three months last year.
The FLN chief, who has repeatedly backed a fourth term for the incumbent, even though he has not been seen or heard in public since his stroke, last week demanded that veteran DRS director Mohamed “Tewfik” Mediene step down, saying that his persistent interference in politics came at the detriment of security.
He accused the shadowy general, who has held his post since 1990 but never appears in public, of a string of security failures, including the military’s handling of a hostage-taking at a desert gas plant by armed Islamists last year in which nearly 40 foreign workers died.
“Instead of managing the country’s security, this department (the DRS) interferes with the activities of political parties, the judiciary and the press,” Saidani said, in the first such open criticism of the veteran intelligence chief.
But his tirade drew condemnation from dissident members of the FLN, which has been Algeria’s leading party since independence except for a few years when the army dispensed with party politics altogether.
The Algerian press said at the time that the accusations levelled against Mediene, one of the hardline military leaders who cancelled a 1992 election which Islamists were poised to win, sparking a bloody decade-long civil war, exposed opposition from the intelligence chief to Bouteflika’s re-election.
Like all of Algeria’s leaders since independence, Bouteflika was chosen by the military to stand for the presidency in 1999. But after his election, he insisted he would not be another puppet of the generals.