World

Algeria protests demanding president step aside continue to draw large crowds

Thousands of Algerian students protest in the capital and other cities for a fifth day Tuesday against President Abdelaziz Bouteflika's plan to extend his 20-year rule by seeking a fifth term, witnesses said.

Abdelaziz Bouteflika may run for re-election even though it's not clear he has the capacity to lead

Students, gathered at the Medicine university, protest Tuesday in Algiers to denounce President Abdelaziz Bouteflika's bid for a fifth term. (Anis Belghoul/Associated Press)

Thousands of Algerian students protested in the capital and other cities for a fifth day Tuesday against President Abdelaziz Bouteflika's plan to extend his 20-year rule by seeking a fifth term, witnesses said.

Despite the rare outpouring of public dissent, Bouteflika's campaign manager said the president would file formal papers for re-election on March 3.

"It is [his] right to be a candidate," Abdelmalek Sellal told a crowd in televised remarks.

The fifth day of demonstrations was the first covered by state media after journalists called on their employers to allow them to report on the protests.

Students have demanded that Bouteflika, 81, drop his intention to seek re-election in the April 18 presidential vote. Bouteflika suffered a stroke in 2013, has been seen in public only a few times since and has given no known speeches in years.

Protesters, who chanted "peaceful, peaceful," were also asking for government steps to provide jobs: more than a quarter of Algerians under 30 are unemployed.

"Many young people got their university degree but they are still unemployed," said a student who gave his name as Djahid.

A student offers a flower to police while during a protest inside the university campus Tuesday in Algiers. (Ramzi Boudina/Reuters)

Dozens marched in central Algiers while hundreds of students held rallies inside faculties as police sought to prevent them leaving the university to link up with counterparts in the streets.

Rallies drawing up to hundreds of people were also held in towns including Bejaia, Tizi Ouzou, Blida and Bouira, residents told Reuters by telephone.

The state news agency APS said the protesters were demanding "change and reform."

Bouteflika has not directly addressed the protests. The authorities announced earlier this week he would be traveling to Geneva for unspecified medical checks, although there was no official confirmation he had left.

Economic woes, signs of dissent

Many Algerians for years avoided politics in public, fearing trouble from the omnipresent security services, or having simply stopped caring as the country has been run by the same group of veterans since the 1954-1962 independence war with France.

Bouteflika himself has ruled since 1999 and is credited with ending a decade-long Islamist insurgency early in his rule. Many Algerians have long tolerated a political system with little space for dissent as a price to pay for peace and stability.

But the new protest waves appears to have broken the long taboo on public discussion of politics.

Algeria's President Abdelaziz Bouteflika casts his ballot in May 2017 during parliamentary elections. Bouteflika, who suffered a stroke in 2013, has made few substantive comments in public since then. (Zohra Bensemra/Reuters)

According to Bouteflika's opponents, there is no evidence he is in in good enough health to lead the country and that it is being ruled in his name by advisers. Authorities say he retains a firm grip on public affairs despite the rarity of his appearances.

A weak and divided opposition faces high hurdles in mounting an electoral challenge. Since the long-ruling FLN party again picked Bouteflika as its presidential candidate, several parties, trade unions and business groups have endorsed him.

Lower oil prices in recent years have damaged Algeria's economy, rekindling discontent.

Corrections

  • An earlier version of the article incorrectly stated in one instance that the election was taking place in March. It will be held on April 18.
    Feb 27, 2019 12:37 PM ET

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