Reports from Switzerland suggest Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika may be headed home after two weeks of medical care, a trip that’s kept him outside of a country in turmoil over his bid for a fifth term.
Agence France Presse shared video late Sunday afternoon that showed the same convoy that left a Geneva hospital where Bouteflika was receiving care had arrived at a Geneva airport. The same plane that took the ailing 81-year-old president to Switzerland on February 24 was seen waiting on the tarmac.
Bouteflika was there for routine medical checkups, according to Algeria’s state news service, but his travels touched off phone calls and protests at the University Hospitals of Geneva that mirrored the thousands of Algerians in the streets at home, demanding that Bouteflika step aside after 20 years. The National Liberation Front leader suffered a stroke in 2013 and is rarely seen in public, and his age and infirmity have led Algerians to argue that Bouteflika has been in power long enough.
Friday’s protests were the largest to date, with protesters taking over the streets of Algiers, Oran and other cities. The escalating Algerian anger, especially among its university students and youth, was met with tear gas and dozens of arrests. The National Museum of Antiquities and Islamic Arts was vandalized during protests near Bouteflika’s official residence, with authorities reporting the theft of art and antiquities.
Among those arrested on Friday was Algerian opposition leader Rachid Nekkaz, who protested not in Algeria but inside the hospital in Geneva.
Bouteflika, increasingly concerned by the protests at home, promised last week that if elected, he would serve only a partial term while shepherding an orderly leadership transition. His message included promises for national dialogue and constitutional reform, youth inclusion, and the “equitable redistribution of national wealth,” as well as measures to end bribery and corruption.
Image: Algerian presidency file