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Algeria's Bouteflika Faces Growing Protests Not to Run Again

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Demonstrators rally to denounce President Abdelaziz Bouteflika's bid for a fifth term, in Algiers, Algeria, Feb. 24, 2019.

With fewer than two months to go before scheduled presidential elections in Algeria, demonstrators have been taking to the streets to protest a possible fifth term for President Abdel Aziz Bouteflika.

The nearly 82-year-old president has been largely confined to a wheelchair since a serious stroke in 2013.

Student groups launched sporadic protests Tuesday against the candidacy of incumbent President Abdel Aziz Bouteflika, on the fourth day of what has started to become a national movement to force the president not to run for a fifth term.

Former Prime Minister Abdel Malek Sellal told a press conference Tuesday that the president would seek the opinion of the country's Constitutional Council on March 3rd, over the legality of his bid for a fifth term in office:

Sellal says the president, who is a former combatant in Algeria's war for independence (against France) will seek the formal approval of his candidacy from the Constitutional Council within the legal time-frame on March 3.

Large crowds of anti-Bouteflika protesters have taken to the streets of the capital Algiers, as well as the key coastal cities of Annaba and Oran, in recent days. Protests have also been reported in smaller towns and cities.

Arab media broadcast video of police firing tear gas in Algiers Sunday to break up demonstrations. No serious casualties were reported.

A group of lawyers also chanted the familiar "Arab Spring" slogan calling for the ouster of the government, while outside the main courthouse in Algiers on Monday.

Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia said in a speech to parliament Monday that authorities are not opposed to demonstrations, so long as they remain peaceful.

Ouyahia said the Algerian constitution guarantees the right of citizens to gather peacefully, and so far protests have remained peaceful. He warns, however, against protest calls from unknown parties and says they could turn violent.

Bouteflika, president since 1999, traveled to Switzerland late Sunday for what his office called routine medical checks.

FILE - Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika prepares to vote in Algiers, May 4, 2017.
FILE - Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika prepares to vote in Algiers, May 4, 2017.

Former prime minister Abdel Malek al Sellal, who is Bouteflika's campaign manager, said in a nationally televised speech several days ago that most people "understand that the situation in the country is delicate."

He said support for the incumbent president was even stronger than the last time he ran in 2014.

He claims that there have been even more signatures in support of the president's candidacy than there were in 2014 and that this shows a complete acceptance on the national level for his remaining in office.

Key bastions of support appear to be eroding, however.

Khattar Abou Diab, who teaches political science at the University of Paris, told VOA that the "behind-the-scenes political movers and shakers" appear to be quarreling among themselves, with their dissension erupting into the open.

He said that until the latter part of Bouteflika's current term in office, there was a sort of tacit entente among the country's main power centers, including the intelligence services, the military, the police and the president's entourage.

The situation, he maintains, became more complicated in the second half of last year, when measures were taken against some key political figures and generals.

Abou Diab says, "The situation has now become complicated and risks getting out of control," because a segment of the country's top power brokers may have allowed the current protests to get out of hand."

These same forces, however, "were taken aback," according to Abou Diab, "after protesters demanded not only an end to Bouteflika's term in office, but also for the fall of the regime."

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