ALGIERS, Algeria -- Algerian Prime Minister Noureddine Bedoui struggled to form a new government Monday as candidates sought to keep their distance from unpopular President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, the target of monthlong nationwide protests.
In a move that he hopes will help calm tensions, Bouteflika said Monday a "national conference" over a new election date and a new constitution for the country would be held soon. Algeria's state-run news agency APS quoted Boutelifka, who returned to Algeria earlier this month after two weeks in a Swiss hospital, as saying that this forum will take "decisive decisions."
Protesters have not been appeased by Bouteflika's announcement on March 11 that he won't stand for a fifth term as president as he also canceled the scheduled presidential poll, a move that critics said flouted the constitution in a desperate bid to cling to power.
Demonstrations persisted for a fourth consecutive Friday as hundreds of thousands of people of all ages marched through Algeria's capital and other cities to press for an end to the ailing president's 20-year-rule.
Meziane Meriane, a union official from the country's education sector, declined a meeting with Bouteflika-loyalist Bedoui because her representatives don't want to be part of a government that is "condemned by the people."
"We are with the street demanding change, but this prime minister who was interior minister in the outgoing government does not correspond to the break demanded by the people," Meriane said Monday.
The state doctors' union boss, Lyes Merabet, also declined a meeting on discussions over the creation of the new government.
"We are for a total break," Merabet said Monday.
A week ago, Bouteflika responded to the unprecedented street protests by cancelling the presidential elections and withdrawing his bid to seek a further term. But 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.
"Top officials don't want to go against the people's will by sitting on a government that should leave office on April 29 — the date that President Bouteflika's term ends," said the Associate Press Abdelaziz Rahabi, former ambassador of Algeria in Madrid and current professor at Sciences Po University. "The country is experiencing a major political crisis."
Associated Press writer Thomas Adamson in Paris contributed