Bendjedid Drops Party Leader Seen As Opponent Of Reforms
ALGIERS, Algeria (AP) _ President Chadli Bendjedid dismissed his second-in-command at the nation’s only legal party Saturday, less than a week before a referendum on political reforms sparked by bloody riots.
Mohamed Cherif Messaadia, who was in charge of the National Liberation Front’s permanent secretariat but considered an opponent of Bendjedid’s reform plans, was replaced by Abdelhamid Mehri, ambassador to neighboring Morocco.
Bendjedid also fired Gen. Mejdoub Lakehel-Ayat, the chief of military security, and gave the job to Col. Mohamed Bechine, who was in charge of security in the Algerian army.
The changes were announced by the official news agency APS, citing a statement issued by the president’s office.
The government has said 159 people were killed and 154 injured in a week of confrontations that started Oct. 4 in Algiers and spread to many provincial cities in the North African nation. Unofficial reports said more than 400 were killed.
Most of the deaths came when troops fired on unarmed protesters who were violating a ban on demonstrations under a state of emergency.
Benjedid announced the referendum at the end of the week of unrest. The Nov. 3 referendum would institute several reforms, including making the premier answer to the National Assembly for his government’s policies.
Until now, the premier has been responsible only to the president and could not be ousted by the assembly.
Mehri and Betchine are believed to be more supportive than their predecessors of Bendjedid’s efforts to break the ruling party’s monopoly on political power and public expression.
But Bendjedid has ruled out allowing other parties to compete with the front, which led the war with France that brought independence in 1962 and still is presented as an essential symbol of Algerian unity.
The reforms to be voted on Thursday would not make major changes in themselves, since the National Assembly remains controlled by the party, but they are seen as part of Bendjedid’s attempt to open up political life.
Bendjedid also made Mehri the head of a commission preparing a crucial party congress expected in December.
The congress is to consider further proposals to allow non-party members to run for office and introduce contested elections for party posts.
The riots started as a protest against economic policies, but spread into an expression of resentment against symbols of power ranging from state-run department stores to government ministries.