Anti-government protests resumed in Algeria as thousands gathered in the capital and elsewhere to demand President Abdelaziz Bouteflika drop plans to stand for a fifth term, witnesses and residents said.
In a rare wave of public dissent, Algerians have been taking to the streets since rallies calling on him to step down began 10 days ago. Bouteflika (82) in shaky health for years, was due to submit his official election papers at the Constitutional Council in Algiers on Sunday, the deadline for candidates.
He need not do so in person, the state news agency APS said. Bouteflika, rarely seen in public since a stroke in 2013, was at the weekend still in Switzerland for unspecified medical checks, according to Swiss media.
Algeria’s weak and divided opposition and civic groups called for more protests should Bouteflika, in power for 20 years, confirm his re-election bid.
Opponents say Bouteflika is no longer fit to lead, citing poor health and what they call chronic corruption and a lack of economic reforms to tackle unemployment over 25% among people under 30.
Analysts say protesters lack leadership and organisation in a country still dominated by veterans, like Bouteflika, of the 1954-62 independence war against France.
Thousands of students gathered at university faculties, one of them near the Constitutional Council where presidential candidates file 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 leaving the campus, keeping the main gates shut. Some students were later seen marching outside.
“We will not stop until we get rid of this system,” said Aicha, a 23-year-old student. Many university graduates face joblessness in an economy dominated by the state.
MORE PROTESTS AROUND THE COUNTRY
According to witnesses and local television footage, protesters turned out in their thousands in other cities around the major oil- and gas-producing country, such as Oran, Batna, Blida, Skikda and Bouira.
The first candidate to submit papers was Ali Ghediri, a retired general challenging the elite made up of military, ruling FLN party and business leaders. “I tell the people a new dawn has started,” he told reporters.
By midday, six candidates formally registered. There was no sign of Bouteflika’s bid.
Bouteflika changed his campaign manager on Saturday, state media said. He has not addressed the protests – the biggest since the 2011 uprisings that ousted long entrenched elites in a number of Arab countries, though not in Algeria.
Friday saw the largest turnout to date in the protest wave, with thousands in the streets. A total of 183 people were injured and one person died of a heart attack, APS said.
Many Algerians avoided public political activity for years, for fear of trouble from the security services or disillusionment with the lack of change in the leadership.
After a decade-long Islamist insurgency Bouteflika stamped out early in his rule, Algerians tolerated a political system with little space for dissent as a price to pay for relative peace and stability.
Disaffection has simmered with one in four young people unemployed in a country heavily reliant on oil and gas exports, despite official promises of economic diversification over many years.