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Algeria tensions: Governing party chief backs protesters

ALGIERS, Algeria (AP) — The acting head of Algeria's governing party says it is throwing its support behind protests against President Abdelaziz Bouteflika Critics viewed the move Wednesday as an effort to save the reputation of the FLN party, or National Liberation Front, amid increasing disillusionment with Algeria's power structure.

FLN interim leader Moab Bouchareb told a meeting of party leaders that the party "supports the popular movement." But he also appeared to support Bouteflika's "roadmap" for political reforms. Bouchareb himself has been criticized as representing a leadership considered corrupt and out of touch with Algeria's struggling youth. The FLN is Bouteflika's party.

On Wednesday, foreign affairs minister Ramtane Lamamra said the Algerian government is "ready for dialogue" with demonstrators. "As I see it, the demonstrations have only grown more numerous, and there will be no solution except through dialogue," he said in a press conference in Berlin.

"The Algerian government is ready for dialogue, and beyond that, they are prepared to welcome the representatives of the opposition and civil society in the new government which is currently being formed."

Algerian Prime Minister Noureddine Bedoui has been struggling to form a new government as candidates sought to keep their distance from Bouteflika. Bedoui, who was appointed last week, had promised to create a new cabinet within days to respond to the demands of Algeria's demonstrating youth.

Separately, the Protestant Church of Algeria issued a statement supporting the protests. The Church, whose exact number of members is not precisely known in the largely Muslim country, said it "fully shares the aspirations and legitimate claims of the Algerian people."

Algeria's union for imams and the Islamic High Council, a consultative body, had previously expressed their support for the protests. Protesters want the ailing Bouteflika to step down after 20 years in power. Bouteflika responded by abandoning plans for a fifth term and promising reforms, but also delayed presidential elections indefinitely.

Demonstrators have demanded the government quit at the technical end of its mandate in April, along with the president who has rarely been seen since a 2013 stroke.

Frank Jordans in Berlin contributed to the story.

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