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Algeria protests: Students rally against Bouteflika fifth term

Students in Algeria have been holding fresh protests against President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s plans to run for a fifth term in office.

The 82-year-old president has until midnight on Sunday local time to register for the elections in April.

Police have been guarding the offices of the Constitutional Council, in the capital Algiers, where candidates submit their files.

Mr Bouteflika said last month that he would run, sparking rare protests.

He has rarely been seen in public since suffering a stroke in 2013 and is currently undergoing medical checks in Switzerland. He does not have to be physically present to register his candidacy.

Police fired water cannon to disperse students marching towards the Constitutional Council in Algiers, police said.

Student rallies and other protests have been reported at locations around the country.

There have also been demonstrations in France, the former colonial power, which is home to a large Algerian community.

Are these protests unusual?

Yes – public shows of dissent like this in Algeria are rare, and these protests are the biggest since Mr Bouteflika came to power 20 years ago.

Demonstrations broke out about 10 days ago after Mr Bouteflika announced his plans to run for office again. On Friday 100,000 people took to the streets – the largest protest so far.

Anti-riot police face off against students in AlgiersImage copyrightREUTERS
Image captionAnti-riot police have been deployed in Algiers
Algerian medical students hold up a flag at an anti-government protest in Algiers
Image copyrightEPA
Image captionYoung people have been at the forefront of the protests in Algeria

Some threw stones near the presidential palace and were driven back by police firing tear gas. Nearly 200 protesters and 56 police officers were injured, state media reported. One person died of a heart attack.

Demonstrations also took place following Friday prayers in several other cities in Algeria.

Who is challenging for the presidency?

So far, six candidates have formally registered, among them a retired general, Ali Ghediri, who has promised to bring “change” to Algeria.

Businessman Rachid Nekkaz, who has a sizeable Facebook following and is said to be popular among Algeria’s young, also plans to join the race.

Two opposition parties, the Labour Party, and the Islamist Movement of Society for Peace, have said they will boycott the election.

Who is Abdelaziz Bouteflika?

Mr Bouteflika came to power in 1999 and is credited with putting an end to a civil war that is estimated to have killed more than 100,000 people.

Protests against food prices and unemployment broke out in 2011 during the Arab Spring but he responded by lifting a nearly two-decades old state of emergency, meeting a key demand of protesters.

After his stroke he won re-election in a poll denounced by the opposition and dissolved the country’s powerful spy agency, replacing it with a body loyal to him.

Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika is seen on a wheelchair as he casts his vote at a polling station in Algiers during parliamentary elections, 4 May 2017.Image copyrightAFP
Image captionPresident Bouteflika has been rarely seen in public – here he was voting in May 2017

Critics say his ill health means that he is unable to perform his duties as president.

Despite growing dissent, Mr Bouteflika is still widely tipped to win the election this year.

Algeria’s opposition is divided and Mr Bouteflika won the last presidential elections in 2014 despite doing no personal campaigning.


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