Algeria set for further mass protests against Bouteflika

AFP , Friday 22 Mar 2019

File photo: Algerians protest against President Abdelaziz Bouteflika.

Algerians were set to launch another round of massive street demonstrations Friday, a month after President Abdelaziz Bouteflika's bid for a fifth term sparked a protest movement that shows little sign of abating.

The last 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 extending 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 -- but postponed the poll.

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

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".

Forecasts of bad weather did not appear to dampen the determination of organisers, who encouraged protesters to bring along umbrellas adorned with the national flag.

"The street will roar in the rain," wrote one activist on Twitter.

The demonstrations, 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".

He said the national conference would decide the date of future elections and that 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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