Police fire tear gas against Algeria’s anti-Bouteflika protesters

Hundreds of anti-government protesters take to the streets of the Algerian capital for the third consecutive day.

Algeria protests [Hamdi Baala/Al Jazeera]
University students are set to protest on Tuesday [Hamdi Baala/Al Jazeera]

Algiers, Algeria – Police fired tear gas to disperse hundreds of protesters on a third consecutive day of rare demonstrations against President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s bid for a fifth term in the April 18 presidential vote.

Sunday’s unrest came in the centre of the capital where hundreds of people took to the streets at about noon despite a significant police presence.

Sofiane Djilali, a coordinator of Mouwatana – the opposition group whose call for anti-government protests sparked demonstrations on Friday – told Al Jazeera, “Algerians showed their high level of [political] awareness once again today and broke the wall of fear.”

Members of Mouwatana and a few dozen protesters gathered near Maurice Audin square where they intended to start their Sunday march but were quickly pushed towards the adjacent Didouche Mourad street. 

Police prevented hundreds of other people from joining the first group. There were reports of some arrests.

Those who managed to rally chanted slogans against the rarely seen Bouteflika’s attempt to prolong his 20-year rule as well as his younger brother, Said.

Observers view Said Bouteflika, who serves as the president’s special adviser, as one of the most influential figures in the 81-year-old’s regime.

Abdelaziz Bouteflika has been in office since 1999. Unable to speak or walk since 2013 when he had a stroke, he has rarely been seen in public since he was re-elected in 2014. Public television’s images often show him in a frail state.

Bouteflika announced his candidacy in the April vote through a letter published by state media on February 10.

The move was expected, but it still caused outrage on social media. Anonymous calls quickly spread on Facebook and Twitter in the following days, announcing protests throughout the country on February 22.

Bouteflika announced his candidacy through a letter published by state media [Hamdi Baala/Al Jazeera]Bouteflika announced his candidacy through a letter published by state media [Hamdi Baala/Al Jazeera]

Some cities across the country did not wait. Bordj Bou Arreiridj, Annaba, Bejaia, Khenchela – among other cities – witnessed gatherings against Bouteflika and his government days before Friday.

Bouteflika postponed the inauguration of a new terminal at the Algiers international airport on Sunday because he left for Geneva for “scheduled medical examinations”, Algeria’s state news agency APS reported.

Zoubida Assoul, president of the opposition party UCL and member of Mouwatana, told Al Jazeera “This is proof the president cannot govern.”

Bouteflika’s latest message published by state media ignored the anti-government protests, focusing instead on the accomplishments under his presidency and calling for “continuity”, a term often used by Bouteflika’s supporters to justify his re-election bid.

Assoul, who also took part in Sunday’s rallies, said the president “cannot stay silent about all these protests demanding his departure”.

“I am confident the street will maintain the pressure,” she said.

University students are set to protest on Tuesday against the student unions’ support of Bouteflika’s re-election bid.

According to anonymous social media messages, a new wave of mass rallies are planned for Friday.

Members of Mouwatana and dozens of protesters gathered in central Algiers [Hamdi Baala/Al Jazeera]Members of Mouwatana and dozens of protesters gathered in central Algiers [Hamdi Baala/Al Jazeera]
Source: Al Jazeera

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