Diplomat Lakhdar Brahimi to chair Algeria transitional council

Former foreign minister Lakhdar Brahimi expected to chair a conference planning Algeria's future, after ailing president Abdelaziz Bouteflika agreed to abandon attempts to seek a fifth term.

ALGIERS - A veteran diplomat and protest groups will join a conference planning Algeria's future after President Abdelaziz Bouteflika yielded to mass demonstrations and agreed not to run again, a government source told Reuters on Tuesday.

Lakhdar Brahimi, a former foreign minister and UN special envoy, is expected to chair the conference that will oversee the transition, draft a new constitution and set the date for elections, the source said.

Bouteflika, 82, abandoned his bid for a fifth term in power on Monday, bowing to weeks of rallies against his 20-year rule by people demanding a new era of politics in a North African country dominated by an old guard.

He stopped short of stepping down immediately - and crowds who took to the streets of Algiers again on Tuesday said they wanted a quick transition.

"The whole system must disappear immediately. Our battle will continue," 25-year-old student Noureddine Habi said as others chanted: "We want this system to go".

Algerians have grown tired of the ailing leader and other veterans of the 1954-1962 war of independence against France who have dominated a country with high unemployment, poor services and rampant corruption. More than a quarter of Algerians under 30 are unemployed.

Algeria's deputy prime minister said Boutiflika's decision was the most important turning point in since independence from France in 1962, Annahar TV reported.

"A competent government will be established, with the confidence of the participants in the national conference, which will supervise the presidential process," said Ramtan Lamamra.

Contacts are now underway with prominent war veterans who may take part in political changes including, Djamila Bouhired, Zohra Drif Bitat, Lakhdar Bouregaa, said political sources.

French President Emmanuel Macron said Bouteflika's statement opened a new chapter and called for a "reasonable duration" to the transition period.

Algeria's powerful military is expected to play a behind-the-scenes role during the transition and is currently considering several civilians as candidates for the presidency and other top positions, political sources said.

One of them includes a prominent lawyer and activist Mustafa Bouchachi, who has gained a wide following on Facebook during the protests.

Although Bouteflika's announcement Monday to withdrew his candidacy for a fifth term cheered his opponents there remained skepticism on Tuesday over his decision to delay the election without setting a new date, which opponents say could leave him in power indefinitely

Protesters question Bouteflika's fitness for office after a 2013 stroke that has left him largely hidden from public view. They're also angry at the gas-rich country's power structure seen as secretive and corrupt.

Many protesters are now demanding that Bouteflika step down April 18 instead of waiting for a new vote.

Student protests started Tuesday in Algiers and are planned in other cities, and nationwide protests are expected Friday.