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22.03.2019 Algeria

Algeria Stage New Mass Protests Against Bouteflika

By AFP
Algerians have demonstrated in their tens of thousands against Bouteflika's bid for another term as president.  By RYAD KRAMDI (AFP)
MAR 22, 2019 ALGERIA
Algerians have demonstrated in their tens of thousands against Bouteflika's bid for another term as president. By RYAD KRAMDI (AFP)

Thousands of Algerians staged massive street demonstrations Friday, a month since ailing President Abdelaziz Bouteflika's bid for a fifth term sparked a protest movement that shows little sign of abating.

The past two Fridays, the Muslim day of prayer, have seen record numbers of protesters hit the streets of Algiers.

Security sources have cited demonstrations in 40 out of the North African country's 48 provinces, while foreign diplomats say "millions" of Algerians have rallied against Bouteflika's plans to extend his two-decade rule.

Bouteflika said on February 22 he would run for a fifth term in April 18 elections, despite concerns about his ability to rule.

The 82-year-old uses a wheelchair and has rarely appeared in public since suffering a stroke in 2013.

Following initial protests, he made the surprise announcement on March 11 that he was pulling out of the race -- and also postponed the polls.

Protesters initially greeted the move with elation, but staged further mass demonstrations after they realised he intended to remain in office.

Thousands of men, women and children gathered under light rain at a key crossroads in the capital on Friday, many brandishing the green and white Algerian flag, emblazoned with a red crescent and star.

But the bad weather did not appear to have dampened their determination.

Retired civil servant Zineb, 59, said she would continue demonstrating "in rain or snow, until this rotten regime falls."

Marching for change

Many had travelled far to attend demonstrations in the capital.

"I will march every Friday, until there is a radical change" to the system, said Younes Laroussi, an unemployed 24-year-old from Tiaret, 270 kilometres (170 miles) from Algiers.

Organisers have used social media this week to call for further protests against Bouteflika and those around him.

"The Algerian people demand the immediate and unconditional departure of President Bouteflika," read one widely-shared post, which demanded that "the leaders of countries that support Algeria's illegitimate power stop... their interference".

Protestors call for President Abdelaziz Bouteflika to step down. By RYAD KRAMDI (AFP) Protestors call for President Abdelaziz Bouteflika to step down. By RYAD KRAMDI (AFP)

The demonstrations, peaceful and unprecedented since Bouteflika won a first term in 1999, have remained largely peaceful.

The government has responded with promises of political and constitutional reform.

Authorities have pledged to hold a "national conference" to discuss reforms, followed by a referendum on a new constitution and eventually the election of a new president.

Deputy prime minister Ramtane Lamamra on Tuesday promised "open and transparent" steps to resolve the country's political crisis, as Algeria's ally Russia backed his government's plans.

Lamamra said Algeria was developing a "concept of a future state" and that a new constitution would be written "on the basis of an open and transparent discussion".

The national conference would decide the date of future elections, he said, adding Bouteflika was "ready to fully transfer his powers" to a new president.

But students, professors, medics, lawyers and magistrates have continued to protest this week and cracks have emerged within Bouteflika's own regime.

His National Liberation Front party said Wednesday it supports protesters' calls for change, while the main trade union confederation and business organisation have been hit by dissent and resignations over their leadership's initial support of Bouteflika.

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