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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 23 March 2019

Algeria judges say they won't oversee vote if Abdelaziz Bouteflika participates

Ailing president returns home to mass demonstrations against him

High school students march with a huge national flag in central Algiers. AP
High school students march with a huge national flag in central Algiers. AP

More than 1,000 Algerian judges have turned their backs on ailing President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, announcing they would refuse to oversee the country's election process in April if he runs.

In a statement on Sunday, the judges added that they were forming a new association.

The Minister of Justice, Tayeb Louh, responded to the movement by calling for neutrality, Sky News Arabia reported.

The 82-year-old leader touched down in Algiers on Sunday, after being hospitalised in Geneva – a warning, to the demonstrating masses, that he intends to push ahead with his bid for re-election. Live images showed the president’s plane and motorcade, but he has yet to appear in public.

The protesters have rejected his offer to limit his term if he wins the vote, continuing instead to spill onto the streets, demanding he step aside.

Though frustrated with “le pouvoir” – a tiny elite of military officers and veterans and big businessmen who have governed for decades – a sense of unity transpired when the chief of staff said the military and the people had a united vision of the future, state TV reported. Lieutenant General Gaed Salah did not mention the unrest.

In a statement released hours before Mr Bouteflika was discharged from a Geneva hospital and rushed to the airport, his party, the National Liberation Front (FLN), said it was working with all political groups to find a way out of the crisis while preserving the national interest, hinting that the ruling elite was looking to appease the street without unsettling the political structure.

“The president’s arrival or lack thereof changes nothing,” Zubida Assoul, leader of the small opposition Union for Change and Progress, said in live comments on Hadath television network. “What all of the Algerian people are awaiting is for the authorities to declare their response to the people.”

But few answers have been provided so far, with a largely absent leader rarely seen in public since suffering a stroke six years ago.

Swiss media reported in recent days that his health was deteriorating.

While Algeria largely avoided the turmoil that shook its neighbours during the uprisings in 2011, its citizens have struggled with rising prices, frustration over alleged corruption and deteriorating living standards.

The series of official comments coming from Mr Bouteflika’s camp are reminiscent of promises made by other leaders in the heated days of the 2011 uprisings. That sequence – first ignore, then cajole and then offer minor reforms – did little to insulate the longtime leaders of Tunisia, Egypt or Libya.

Updated: March 11, 2019 07:50 PM

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