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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 23 March 2019

Algeria war veterans back protests demanding end to Abdelaziz Bouteflika's rule

Algerian police on Wednesday readied themselves for another day of rallies against leader's re-election bid

Algerian students protest against the fifth term of Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika in Algiers, Algeria, 05 March 2019. EPA
Algerian students protest against the fifth term of Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika in Algiers, Algeria, 05 March 2019. EPA

Algerian police on Wednesday readied themselves for another day of protests against ailing President Abdelaziz Bouteflika's re-election bid. He submitted papers to confirm his run for a fifth term on Sunday.

Police vans and water cannons were deployed to the capital city's main post office, a day after disgruntled students took to the streets of Algiers. Demonstrators have vowed to take to the streets until the 82-year-old leader resigns.

The Algerian leader's health has reportedly deteriorated, deepening the uncertainty over his push for a fifth term in office that’s triggered unprecedented mass protests.

"Bouteflika is more than an individual, he represents the current political system that has been governing Algeria since the military coup and even before," Khadidja Nemar, Chief Legal Adviser at MENA Rights Group, told The National.

"The president has not been able to speak in years he cannot even announce his candidacy himself nor go through the constitutional procedures and registration which already makes his candidacy unconstitutional," added Ms Nemar.

On social media the photograph of a placard bearing the image of a man's silhouette reclining on a red crescent moon exemplified the demonstrators' discontent as thousands on Tuesday chanted "Hey Bouteflika, there won't be a fifth term" and pledged to hold further protests.

In a show of support, war veterans backed protesters late on Tuesday, saying the demonstrators had legitimate concerns and urging citizens to continue demonstrating. "It is the duty of Algerian society in all its segments to take to the streets," the influential National Organisation of Mujahideen – veterans who fought alongside Bouteflika in the 1954-1962 war of independence against France – said late on Tuesday.

Several other public figures have announced their resignations, as cracks in the country's elite continue to show.

Also on Tuesday the United States expressed support for the protests, with deputy State Department spokesman Robert Palladino saying: The "US supports the Algerian people and their right to peacefully assemble,"

He added: "We're monitoring these protests that are happening in Algeria and we're going to continue to do that".

But many expressed wariness at the thought of foreign interference.

"Algerians are determined to always say that we do not want or need any foreign power intervening," Younes Hadj-Hamou,26, an Algerian based in London told The National. "We are a people capable of sorting this mess out ourselves and we will. Peacefully and without any other country coming into to simply fulfill their interests like they did in other countries."

Some social media users took to Twitter to demand the same.

"From Algeria to the world we are protesting peacefully and we are conscious, this is our problem not the US problem or the European Union's problem, please mind your own business, sit back and watch," one student from Algiers tweeted.

Older Algerians still haunted by the civil war in the 1990s have been more tolerant of crackdowns, in exchange for stability.

"The Algerian society remains traumatised by the civil war so while the discontent was clearly and widely shared across the country, it is a surprise and a pride to see that my generation especially has been able to overcome this fear of violence," said Ms Nema of MENA Rights Group.

"This is a situation that has been boiling for a long while. Algerians have not been happy for a long time but did not do anything out of fear of possibly returning to a scenario like the bloodshed that occurred in the 1990s," said Mr Hadj-Hamou.

But the country also has a younger generation desperate for jobs, who have lost patience.

Despite the anger, protesters have largely taken to the streets in non-violent demonstrations.

"People have given flowers, food and drinks to police as a peace gesture, stressing that they are Algerian citizens too who are suffering like the people," said Mr Hadj-Hamou. "The people do not want trouble, bloodshed or destruction. They want justice, freedom and opportunity and they feel they can get this peacefully."

Updated: March 6, 2019 07:30 PM

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