Algerian students join protests against Bouteflika’s fifth term
Protesters call for veteran president to stand down
Algiers — Thousands of Algerian students marched on Tuesday in protest at ailing President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s determination to stand for re-election, brushing aside his pledge not to serve a full fifth term.
Following mass demonstrations, the veteran leader promised that if he wins the April poll he will organise a “national conference” to set a date for further elections which he would not contest.
But his pledge, made in a letter read out late on Sunday on state television, has been angrily dismissed as an insult by Algerians weary of his two-decade-old rule.
Rallies demanding the 82-year-old resign have rocked Algeria since February 22, with protesters mobilised by calls on social media, in a country where half the population is under 30 and many young people struggle to find jobs.
On Tuesday thousands of university students from campuses across Algiers marched in the capital, many carrying their country’s flag.
Abderahman, a 21-year-old student, said Bouteflika “wants an extra year” in power. “We don’t want him to stay even an extra second. He should leave now,” he said.
Police deployed across the centre of the capital where protests have been banned since 2001. The TSA news website reported similar protests in Algeria’s second and third cities, Oran and Constantine, as well as in other towns and cities.
“Hey Bouteflika, there won’t be a fifth term,” the students chanted in central Algiers. Onlookers applauded them and motorists blew their hooters in a show of support.
In a sign they will not back down from protests calling on the president to resign, the students chanted “bring on the army commandos and the BRI [police rapid response squad]”.
Bouteflika suffered a stroke in 2013 and is rarely seen in public. He formally submitted his candidacy for the April 18 poll just before a midnight deadline on Sunday. It was handed in by his campaign manager Abdelghani Zaalane as the president has been in Switzerland since February 24 for what the presidency has described as routine medical tests.
In Sunday’s message he said that his pledge not to serve a full term if re-elected “will ensure I am succeeded in undeniable conditions of serenity, freedom and transparency”.
He acknowledged the mostly peaceful protests against him. “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.”
But his words have failed to end the protests against him which first erupted on February 22 and have continued daily, drawing Algerians from all walks of life, including students, lawyers and journalists.
Tuesday’s rallies came in response to calls on social media for students to gather outside the iconic building housing the main post office in Algiers.
“No means no! Hasn’t he understood the message of the people?” asked Selma, who studies mathematics.
“Today we will make it clear for him, and again on Friday,” which has been the main day for protests, she said.
A sign held up by protesters read: “No studies, no teaching until the system [regime] falls”, as students were reportedly considering going on strike.
The sprawling Bab Ezzouar campus of the University of Algiers, just outside the capital, was deserted.
“There is a massive strike by students ... I’ve never seen anything like it since the 1980 Berber Spring,” a professor said.
She was referring to a weeks-long uprising demanding cultural rights for Algeria’s Berber community, who long fought for greater recognition for their customs and ancient language overshadowed by Arabic culture.
University professors were meeting on Tuesday to decide if they too should go on strike. The bar association of lawyers in the city of Bejaia, 180km east of Algiers, called on its members to follow in the footsteps of their colleagues in Constantine and go on strike.