ALGIERS (Reuters) – Anti-government protests resumed in Algeria on Sunday as thousands gathered in the capital and other towns to demand Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika drop plans to stand for a fifth term, witnesses and residents said.
Police officers try to disperse people trying to reach the government palace during a protest against President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s plan to extend his 20-year rule by seeking a fifth term in April elections in Algiers, Algeria, March 1, 2019. REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra
In a rare wave of public dissent, Algerians have been taking to the streets since rallies calling on him to step down began 10 days ago. Bouteflika, 82, in shaky health for years, was due to submit his official election papers at the Constitutional Council in Algiers on Sunday, the deadline for candidates.
He need not do so in person, the state news agency APS said. Bouteflika, rarely seen in public since he suffered a stroke in 2013, was at the weekend still in Switzerland for unspecified medical checks, according to Swiss media.
Algeria’s weak and divided opposition and civic groups have called for more protests should Bouteflika, in power since 1999, confirm his re-election bid. But analysts say the movement is lacking a leader and organization in a country still dominated by veterans of the 1954-62 independence war against France.
Hundreds of students gathered inside a university campus near the Constitutional Council where presidential candidates file their papers, chanting: “No to a fifth term!”
Witnesses also reported protests in other higher education faculties in Algiers and cities such as Oran in the west of the North African country, a major producer of oil and natural gas.
There was heavy security around the Constitutional Council, and police prevented students from leaving the campus, a roughly 10-minute walk away.
The first candidate to submit his papers was Ali Ghediri, a retired general who is challenging the elite made up of military, ruling FLN party and business leaders. “I tell the people a new dawn has started,” he told reporters.
Bouteflika changed his campaign manager on Saturday, state media said. He has not addressed the protests against him – the biggest since the 2011 uprisings that ousted long entrenched elites in a number of Arab countries, though not in Algeria.
Opponents say that Bouteflika is no longer fit to lead, citing his poor health and what they call undiminished corruption and a lack of reforms to tackle high unemployment and red tape hampering the economy.
Friday saw the largest turnout to date in the protest wave, with tens of thousands in the streets. A total of 183 people were injured and one person died of a heart attack, APS said.
Many Algerians avoided public political activity for years, for fear of trouble from the pervasive security services or out of disillusionment with the lack of change in the leadership.
After a decade-long Islamist insurgency that Bouteflika stamped out early in his rule, Algerians have often tolerated a political system with little space for dissent as a price to pay for relative peace and stability.
Reporting by Lamine Chikhi, Hamid Ould Ahmed and Ulf Laessing; Editing by Mark Heinrich