By Lamine Chikhi
ALGIERS (Reuters) – Algeria needs six months to prepare free elections, a protest leader said on Saturday, and called for the transition from 20 years of rule by President Abdelaziz Bouteflika to be managed by a former minister respected by protesters as well as Islamists.
The call by Seif Islam Benatia for Ahmed Taleb Ibrahimi, an 87-year-old former minister, conservative and author to play a leading role, comes a day after hundreds of thousands marched peacefully for the tenth consecutive Friday demanding the departure of Algeria’s ruling elite.
Benatia told a meeting of activists and academics in Algiers neither interim president Abdelkader Bensalah nor Prime Minister Nouredine Bedoui, named by Bouteflika just before he left, could lead the transition as they were part of the elite.
He also called for a six month transition period, longer than the 90-day period foreseen by the constitution.
“Definitely the interim president and the prime minister have to leave,” said Seif Islam, a 31-year-old dentist.
Ibrahimi, a son of prominent Muslim preacher Bachir Ibrahimi, served under two previous presidents, including as foreign minister. He was not allowed under Bouteflika to register his own political party, a reason why he is now perceived as being outside the ruling elite.
“Taleb Ibrahimi is ready to help us open a new era and end the crisis,” he said, adding that he had met him. “Taleb will not be a candidate for the presidential (vote). He is competent and honest and credible,” said Benatia.
There was no immediate comment from Ibrahimi.
Bouteflika stepped down this month, bowing to pressure from the army and after weeks of demonstrations mainly by young people seeking change.
Protests have continued as demonstrators rejected the appointment of Bensalah as interim president, who as upper house head runs a transition period of 90 days before a presidential election on July 4.
Bouteflika resigned after mass protests and pressure from army chief Lieutenant-General Ahmed Gaed Salah who had declared him unfit for office, in a bid to avoid prolonged turmoil.
The army has since offered to secure a smooth transition under the framework of the constitution.
(Editing by Ulf Laessing and Alexandra Hudson)