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Students Protest Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika's Bid For Fifth Term

Students in Algiers protest President Abdelaziz Bouteflika's bid for a fifth term on Tuesday.
Anis Belghoul
Students in Algiers protest President Abdelaziz Bouteflika's bid for a fifth term on Tuesday.

Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika will submit his official application to seek re-election to a fifth term, his campaign manager said Tuesday, despite days of political protests sweeping the country.

On Tuesday, university students took to the streets in the latest wave of demonstrations, responding to calls on social media for a rare show of public dissent. They carried banners and chanted slogans against the 81-year-old president, who has governed Algeria for two decades and who has been ailing in recent years.

"Bouteflika, go away!" students called out, waving Algerian flags and singing the national anthem. Demonstrations took place across the nation, from the capital, Algiers, to the port city of Mostaganem in the west and the University of Adrar in the Sahara Desert.

The protests came as some students sought to distance themselves from a group of 11 student unions that had declared support for Bouteflika, AFP reports.

"I am a student," reads a sign posted to Twitter. "No organization represents me. No to a fifth term."

Bouteflika, who has been in power since 1999, announced earlier this month that he would seek a fifth term, amid questions over his health. He has rarely appeared in public since a stroke in 2013 required him to use a wheelchair, and suspicions have been raised that his advisers, including his brother Saïd, are running the country.

"The people don't want Bouteflika or Saïd," students chanted in Algiers on Tuesday. The protests, which began Friday, have largely opposed the current government without calling for any particular opposition candidate.

Maher Mezahi, a freelance journalist based in Algiers, says Bouteflika is widely expected to win April's election, as his National Liberation Front party faces little opposition.

Algerians "know that the election would be skewed heavily in [Bouteflika's] favor if he does run," Mezahi tells NPR, which is "why there's such an urgency to stop him" before he submits his application, which is expected on Sunday.

Authorities have maintained that Bouteflika is fit to run the country.

"To those who are dreaming of change I say 'Have nice dreams,'" said National Liberation Front party leader Moad Bouchareb in a televised address on Saturday, according to Reuters. The president's supporters have emphasized the risk of unrest and evoked memories of Algeria's bloody, decade-long civil war that ended during Bouteflika's first term as president.

But discontent over the country's economy has bubbled up in the form of smaller strikes and protests, Reuters reports, as Algeria, which is heavily reliant on revenue from natural resources, faces lower oil prices and high youth unemployment.

Mezahi says protesters in Algiers have made a conscious effort to keep protests peaceful and have even brought their own cleanup gear. He says protesters worry about a military crackdown if demonstrations turn violent and that "the overarching majority have been very respectful of private property."

More protests are scheduled for Friday.

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