Friday 18 October 2019

Algerian leader defies protests with election bid

Anti-riot police officers clash with people protesting against President Abdelaziz Bouteflika's plan to extend his 20-year rule by seeking a fifth term in April elections in Algiers. Photo: REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra
Anti-riot police officers clash with people protesting against President Abdelaziz Bouteflika's plan to extend his 20-year rule by seeking a fifth term in April elections in Algiers. Photo: REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra

Lamine Chikhi

Algerian President Abdel­aziz Bouteflika has defied mass protests over his 20 years in power by seeking re-election next month.

A local TV station reported he has offered to step down after a year if re-elected.

The reported comments are likely to be viewed as an attempt to appease those who had taken to the streets for 10 days to protest against the 82-year-old's plans to remain in office and to allow him an exit on his own terms.

Mr Bouteflika's statement that he would seek office again was his first in response to the biggest displays of dissent in Algeria since the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings.

In a sign of a disconnect from the mostly young population, almost 70pc of which are aged below 30, he communicated via letter, as he has since suffering a stroke in 2013.

Tens of thousands of protesters had been rallying throughout the day in cities around Algeria, calling on Mr Bouteflika not to submit election papers for the April 18 polls.

His campaign manager, Abdelghani Zaalane, arrived to submit the documents last night, but there was no sign of Mr Bouteflika, who Swiss television said remained at a hospital in Geneva.

"I listened and heard the passionate call from the protesters, especially the thousands of young people," Mr Bouteflika wrote, repeating a previous pledge to hold a referendum on constitutional reform.

Just before Mr Bouteflika's announcement, the head of the election commission, Abdelwahab Derbal, said all candidates must submit their candidacy papers in person. If applied, this would mean Mr Bouteflika could not run.

Mr Bouteflika's opponents say he is no longer fit to lead, citing his health and what they call chronic corruption and a lack of economic reforms to tackle high unemployment, which exceeds 25pc among people under 30.

Irish Independent

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