Algeria: Tens of thousands protest over Bouteflika’s 5th term bid
Published: 12:11 PM, 2 March 2019 Updated: 12:12 PM, 2 March 2019
Tens of thousands of protesters marched through Algeria on Friday against ailing President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s bid for the fifth term, the largest demonstrations in years.
Police helicopters were seen circled overhead as protesters gathered in streets and parks of the capital, Algiers after midday Muslim prayer services.
Riot police vans lined the boulevard leading to the presidential headquarters and deployed around the March route.
Security forces fired tear gas at protesters in the Belcourt neighborhood on the city’s Mediterranean shore.
Protesters of the country hoped that the demonstration would send a loud voice against gas-rich North African country’s secretive leadership before the April 18 presidential election.
Hamdane Salim, a 45-year-old public sector worker said, “Look at the Algerian youth, all it is demanding is a valid president who can talk to the people.”
Among the crowd was Djamila Bouhired, 83, a heroine of the 1954-1962 independence war against France, who told reporters, “I’m happy to be here.”
There were also demonstrations in other cities such as Oran, Constantine, Setif, Tizi Ouzou and Bouira drawing in thousands, according to residents.
The protests were mostly peaceful, but scuffles broke out in the capital between police and protestors later in the day near the presidential palace, witnesses said.
“About a dozen people were wounded in sporadic clashes with police,” the AFP news agency reported.
Since last Friday, thousands have taken part in anti-government protesters seldom seen in the country.
Jeremy Keenan of the Queen Mary University of London told Al Jazeera, “To come out onto the streets in such huge numbers is an act of courage by the Algerian people. In a sense, they have got rid of their fear of the repressive regime. This could be a tipping point in Algeria.”
Keenan called the demonstrations “completely unprecedented.”
He said Algerian youth are not only calling for 81-year-old Bouteflika to not run in the upcoming election but also are demanding a change in the way their oil-rich country is governed.
“Fifty percent of the Algerian population, we are talking about 42 million people, is under the age of 27 and 30 percent of those are unemployed. You have a country that is potentially extremely rich. The revenues from oil in the last 20 years have been at least a trillion dollars. Of that, at least 300 million is unaccounted for. People know this and are sick of it,” he added.
Bouteflika suffered a stroke in 2013 and has rarely appeared in public since then. The ailing leader has also not given any known speeches since he suffered the stroke.
Overthrow the ruler
For years, many Algerians have avoided public political activity fearing trouble from the omnipresent security services or becoming disillusioned as the country has been run by the same group of veterans since the 1954-1962 independence war with France.
Bouteflika himself has ruled Algeria since 1999 and stamped out a decade-long rebellion early in his rule.
Many Algerians have long tolerated a political system with little space for dissent as a price to pay for peace and stability.
Bouteflika’s opponents say there is no evidence showing that he is fit enough to lead the country and alleged that it is being ruled in his name by advisers. Authorities say he retains a firm grip on public affairs despite the rarity of his appearances.
A weak and divided opposition faces high hurdles in mounting an electoral challenge. Since the long-ruling FLN party again picked Bouteflika as its presidential candidate, several parties, trade unions, and business groups have endorsed him.