After spending two weeks in a Swiss hospital, Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika returned home to a crowd of protesters who want him to withdraw from the presidential race. Having spent nearly two decades in office, the 82-year-old president is seeking a fifth term.
The protest has gone beyond Algeria, as thousands of people of Algerian origin, gathered for the second weekend in a row at the République square in central Paris. Demonstrations have also been ongoing in various cities including Marseille and Bordeaux which is home to a large Algerian community.
France, which ruled Algeria for more than 100 years as a colonial power, is home to the largest population of people with Algerian origin, outside of the north African country.
According to national statistics agency, Institut national de la Statistique et des études économiques (INSEE), France, about 1.7 million people of Algerian origin are estimated to live in France and the police confirmed that more than 10,000 rallied in Paris alone, while another 6,000 marched in the southern city of Marseille.
The aging president, who has rarely been seen in public since suffering a stroke that confined him to a wheelchair in 2013, is more concerned that Algeria could return to the “national tragedy” of its decade-long civil war in the 1990s than his fifth term bid. Bouteflika pledged to organize an early election within a year, noting that he would step aside if he emerged victorious in the election and would call a national conference to discuss reforms and a new constitution.
On seeing that his pledge further aggravated Algerians’ anger, the ailing president on Friday, March 8, warned of chaos if protesters allowed what he called the “infiltration” of their movement by unspecified forces. That same day, authorities halted train and metro services in the capital, Algiers.
Meanwhile, the president had earlier said in a written message to Algeria, “Of course, I no longer have the same physical strength as before, but the unshakable will to serve the country has never left me and enables me to transcend constraints linked to health problems which can happen to anyone.”
Lawyers, veterans, students and various Algerians from different works of life are all calling for the removal of the President cum Minister of defence.
There are also divisions among the top officials of the ruling FLN party, spies, business people and Bouteflika’s inner circle.
War veterans urged all citizens to demonstrate while about 1,000 lawyers gathered in Algiers in protest on Thursday, March 7, chanting “the people want to overthrow the regime” and “republic, not a kingdom”.
Even Judges, more than a thousand, have said that they would refuse to oversee Algeria’s April 18 election if Bouteflika contests. The Judges noted that they were forming a new association to ensure all are onboard the plans.
Young Algerians are desperate for jobs and they complain that their leaders still dwell on the victory over France instead of improving living standards for the future. Elderly Algerians want a new government and another ruling party. In all, Algerians do not want their president any more.