Algeria braces for large demonstrations against ailing President’s re-election


Algeria braces for large demonstrations against ailing President's re-election
Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika is seen in a wheelchair as he casts his vote at a polling station in Algiers on May 4, 2017 during parliamentary elections.

Algerians are expected to stage the country’s biggest protests in decades, days before Algeria’s ailing President Abdelaziz Bouteflika formally runs for a fifth term.

The student-led protests on Friday, which have grown in recent days, are calling on 81-year-old Bouteflika to withdraw from the election race.

It is widely believed that Algeria’s president is largely incapacitated, leaving the running of the country in the hands of a group of military and civilian elites.

Bouteflika, who was elected president in 1999, suffered a stroke in 2013 and has rarely been seen in public since. He announced his intention on February 10 to run for elections in a statement published by the state news agency, sparking anger on Algerian streets, and igniting a string of country-wide protests.

He is expected to submit a formal application to seek re-election on Sunday, prompting demonstrators to further mobilize over the last week.

The opaque group of elites surrounding the president — known as le pouvoir, or the power — are believed to have been unable to choose a successor who would ensure the continuity of the National Liberation Front, the country’s ruling party.

Video on social media showed protesters setting pictures of the Algerian president on fire amid whistles and cheers. Students on campuses across the country marched to chants calling for the president’s resignation. The scenes are uncommon in a country tightly controlled by security services.

Algeria’s leadership largely comprises veterans of the country’s war of independence from France between 1954 and 1962.

The country’s ruling party has repeatedly said that the elections would be “free and transparent.”

“Nothing can prevent the Algerian people from freely electing a president of the Republic,” said Algerian Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia on Thursday, according to the state-owned Algerian Press Service (APS).

On Thursday, an unspecified number of Algerian journalists were arrested as they staged a demonstration calling for greater press freedoms and policy reforms, according to APS.

Meanwhile, the country’s security services have issued a warning about false news to “harm public opinion,” APS reported.

Authorities have reportedly partially shut down Internet services around the country. Internet Observatory NetBlocks.org said it detected multiple Internet disruptions across Algeria, including targeted network shutdowns which included major protest areas of Algiers, Tizi Ouzou and Bordj Menaiel.

 

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