Anger brews in Algeria after Bouteflika bids for 5th term

AFP , Monday 4 Mar 2019

Algeria Protests
Algerians demonstrate in the capital Algiers on March 4, 2019 against ailing President Abdelaziz Bouteflika's bid for a fifth term (Photo: AFP)

Algerians on Monday dismissed President Abdelaziz Bouteflika's promise to quit early if re-elected for a fifth time and said they were ready for new protests seeking his resignation.

The ailing leader, who suffered a stroke in 2013, vowed in a letter read out on state television late Sunday to organise a "national conference" that would set a date for further polls which he would not contest.

"I pledge not to be a candidate in that election which will ensure I am succeeded in undeniable conditions of serenity, freedom and transparency," the letter read.

"I listened and heard the cry from the hearts of protesters and in particular the thousands of young people who questioned me about the future of our homeland", it said.

His message -- followed by the formal submission of his candidacy for the April 18 poll by his campaign manager Abdelghani Zaalane -- failed to win hearts as new protests hit the capital Algiers and other cities.

In central Algiers hundreds of mostly young demonstrators rallied peacefully overnight Sunday and into the early hours of Monday as a helicopter buzzed overhead and police deployed gradually across the city.

Similar protests were reported in other cities across the North African country overnight.

As the week unfolded Monday, residents of the capital told AFP they were already planning for more protests as they dismissed Bouteflika's promises as an "insult".

Bouteflika "thinks we're idiots. We said no (to him). And 'we' are a people 42-million strong," said Karim, a 22-year-old unemployed man who declined to give his surname.

Mohammed, a 69-year-old retired man, insisted he was ready to take part in his "first ever" demonstration next Friday.

"They want us to believe that he (Bouteflika) is the Messiah, a prophet, that there is no one else who can save this country," he said.

- 'Contempt' -
Local newspapers also expressed their fury, with Al-Watan daily saying Bouteflika's bid for a fifth term showed "contempt" for the tens of thousands of Algerians who have taken to the streets since February 22 calling for him to resign.

Liberte newspaper said Bouteflika's promises to serve a shorter term were merely a "manoeuvre" to placate the people "until he takes charge again".

But El-Moudhjahid daily, a mouthpiece of the government, said in an editorial that Bouteflika's pledge showed that he was "placing the dignity and interests of his compatriots and Algeria before anything else".

The president, who has rarely been seen in public since suffering a stroke, has been in Switzerland since February 24 for what the presidency described as "routine medical tests".

There were no legal requirements for him to submit his candidacy in person and it was handed in by his campaign manager Zaalane just before a midnight deadline Sunday.

Zaalane claimed that Bouteflika -- who has ruled since 1999 -- had the backing of 19,700 national and local elected representatives and of 5.86 million voters.

Their signed affidavits of support were brought Sunday night to the Constitutional Council -- where presidential bids are formally lodged -- by the truckloads.

- 'Go away' -
Hours earlier students demonstrating in central Algiers chanted "Bouteflika go away" and police fired water cannon to prevent some from reaching the Constitutional Council.

Similar rallies took place in several cities across the oil-rich North African country and as far as France and Montreal in Canada.

"Out out," shouted crowds in the Place de la Republique, central Paris, where protesters waved placards and some wrapped themselves in Algerian flags.

Protesters in Algeria have been mobilised by calls on social media, as many young people struggle to find jobs in a country where half the population is under 30.

Bouteflika was the eight candidate to register Sunday for the April poll.

The others included retired general Ali Ghediri -- an independent who was the first to announce he would run and has promised change, but whose popularity remains unknown.

Bouteflika's former prime minister and key rival Ali Benflis announced Sunday he would not run in the race describing the upcoming election as no longer relevent because it was void of competition.

The council has until March 14 to accept or reject the presidential bids.

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