By Hamid Ould Ahmed and Lamine Chikhi
ALGIERS (Reuters) – Algeria’s army chief said on Tuesday the military was considering all options to resolve the national political crisis and warned “time is running out”, after weeks of anti-government protests.
Lieutenant-General Ahmed Gaed Salah’s remarks were the strongest indication yet that the military, which has said it supports a transition period after the April 2 resignation of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, is losing patience.
In a speech broadcast on state television, Salah, speaking at a military base in the central town of Ouargla, urged protesters who have been gathering since Feb. 22 to avoid violence.
“All options are open in the pursuit of overcoming the different difficulties and finding a solution to the crisis as soon as possible, in a way that serves our nation’s interests without regard to individual interests,” he said.
Salah did not specify what measures the army could take. But he said: “We have no ambition but to protect our nation.”The army patiently monitored the mostly peaceful protests that sometimes swelled to hundreds of thousands of people.
But Salah intervened when Bouteflika sought to extend his fourth term, declaring him unfit for office in a bid to avoid prolonged turmoil.
Parliament named an interim president and a July 4 election date was set in a transition the army said it would support.
Bouteflika’s departure failed to placate many Algerians who want to topple the old guard and its associates. Protesters want a clean break with the ruling elite – veterans of the war of independence against France, the ruling party and oligarchs – and sweeping democratic reforms.
Analysts say the army has been acting within the framework of the constitution to avoid giving any impression of a coup.
In the early 1990s, the military canceled an election Islamists were poised to win, triggering a civil war that killed an estimated 200,000 people and ravaged Algeria.
“The army’s leadership does not take any decision that does not serve the country and the people,” said Salah, adding that some parties were not happy with the “peaceful protests”.