Algerian protests swell as Bouteflika declares re-election bid

Tens of thousands of protesters rally in cities around country calling for president to quit

Students protest against Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s plan to extend his 20-year rule, at a university in Algiers, Algeria, on Sunday. Photograph: Ramzi Boudina/Reuters

Students protest against Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s plan to extend his 20-year rule, at a university in Algiers, Algeria, on Sunday. Photograph: Ramzi Boudina/Reuters

 

Algeria’s President Abdelaziz Bouteflika has submitted official papers confirming he will seek re-election, Ennahar TV has said, despite mass protests against the move.

There was no official confirmation, but state news agency APS published his asset declaration, which is a formal requirement to run in the election.

Tens of thousands of protesters had been rallying throughout the day in cities around Algeria to call for Mr Bouteflika to step down. Numbers were approaching the levels of Friday, when demonstrators filled the centre of the capital, Algiers, in one of the biggest outpourings of dissent – rare in Algeria – since the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings.

Bouteflika (82), in shaky health for years, submitted his official election papers at the Constitutional Council in Algiers on Sunday, the private TV channel said.

He did not have to do so in person, state news agency APS had said earlier. Mr Bouteflika, rarely seen in public since he suffered a stroke in 2013, was still in Switzerland for unspecified medical checks at the weekend, Swiss media reported.

A witness said trucks from Mr Bouteflika’s campaign arrived at the Constitutional Council on Sunday afternoon.

Opponents of Mr Bouteflika say he is no longer fit to lead, citing his poor health, what they call chronic corruption and a lack of economic reforms to tackle high unemployment that exceeds 25 per cent among people under the age of 30.

Analysts say the protesters, who began hitting the streets 10 days ago, lack leadership and organisation in a country still dominated by veterans of the 1954-62 independence war against France, such as Bouteflika himself.

Traditionally weak and divided opposition and civic groups have called for protests to go on should Mr Bouteflika, now in power for 20 years, continue pursuit of re-election.

Fears of bloodshed

The government has played on fears among many Algerians of a return of bloodshed seen in the 1990s, when an estimated 200,000 people were killed after Islamists took up arms when the military cancelled elections they had been poised to win.

The new series of protests have been generally peaceful, however, apart from on Friday, when scuffles with police left 183 injured.

Thousands of students gathered on Sunday at university faculties, one of them near the Constitutional Council where presidential candidates filed their papers, chanting: “No to a fifth term!” or “A free and democratic Algeria!”

There was heavy security around the Constitutional Council, and police prevented restive students from leaving the campus nearby, keeping the main gates shut.

But thousands later marched through the centre, as they had on Friday. A diplomatic source estimated as many as 70,000 people had massed in Algiers, including a rally at Bab Ezzouar university, the country’s biggest.

“We will not stop until we get rid of this system,” said Aicha, a 23-year-old student.

According to witnesses and local television footage, protesters also turned out in their thousands in other cities around the North African country, such as Oran, Constantine, Annaba, Batna, Blida, Skikda and Bouira. - Reuters