April 9 (UPI) -- Algerian lawmakers on Tuesday approved Senate leader Abdelkader Bensalah as the nation's interim president for the next 90 days, taking over for Abdelaziz Bouteflika.
Bensalah will remain in office until elections for a permanent president are held. Algerians began protests in February when Bouteflika, 82, said he'd run for a fifth term in office. Although he later withdrew from the election, the protests continued. Bouteflika resigned last week amid the pressure.
"I am required by national duty to take on this heavy responsibility of steering a transition that will allow the Algerian people to execute their sovereignty," Bensalah said. "We must work to allow the Algerian people to elect their president as soon as possible."
Human rights experts say the succession is the first step to returning democracy to Algeria.
"The next steps should be to release prisoners held for peaceful expression or assembly and to revise the laws used to put them behind bars," Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director for Human Rights Watch, said. "Reform will be genuine only if it involves dismantling the repressive legal machinery that the authorities have used for years to repress dissenting voices."
Several opposition groups have called for the creation of another political structure during the interim phase, to facilitate a transition to a true democracy.