Young Algerians took to the streets on Friday to protest the possibility of a fifth term for President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, the ailing 81-year-old who has been Algeria’s leader since 1999.
The marches in Algiers, Oran, Sidi Bel Abbès and beyond featured signs and slogans to oppose another term for the National Liberation Front candidate, who announced his candidacy two weeks ago.
Protesters said that 20 years was long enough for Bouteflika, and they wanted leadership for a modern world and a sustainable future. While most of the marches were peaceful, some clashes with police were reported in Algiers as protesters throwing stones were met with tear gas.
Bouteflika’s bid includes the promise that if elected he would begin a national dialogue to establish a “political, economic and social platform” with the possibility of constitutional reforms.
Yet it was only Thursday, according to French media outlet Le Point, that the president appeared on television for the first time since December. Bouteflika had a stroke in 2013 and has been reclusive since then, rarely seen in public and often viewed as a figurehead while others actually run the country.
Bouteflika addressed the health issue in his announcement, noting that he has never hidden from the Algerian people on matters of health and that he remains fit to lead the nation. Yet even as Algerians marched against his candidacy, Bouteflika planned to be off again to Geneva for routine medical care. The visit follows a trip in January, where he was seen at the hospital in Grenoble, France, where his medical team has long practiced.
Among others, Bouteflika will face Ali Benflis, a former prime minister who announced his candidacy with the Talaie El Hurriyet party last week, and moderate Islamist Abderrazak Makri of Algeria’s Movement for the Society of Peace (MSP), who have yet to agree on a unified opposition candidate despite ongoing negotiations.
Image: Bouteflika file