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Protest against a fifth term for Abdelaziz Bouteflika recruits more and more demonstrators

Written by Frédéric Dubessy on Friday, March 8th 2019 à 17:26 | Read 318 times

The Algerian street is rising against a fifth term for Abdelaziz Bouteflika in power since 1999 (photo: F.Dubessy)
The Algerian street is rising against a fifth term for Abdelaziz Bouteflika in power since 1999 (photo: F.Dubessy)
ALGERIA. The street has been rumbling for three weeks in Algiers, Oran, Constantine, Blida, Béjaia... and the movement is really starting to gain momentum. The population is mobilizing against the desire of Abdelaziz Bouteflika (82 years old and suffering since 2013 from the after-effects of a stroke) to seek a fifth term.

On Friday 8 March 2019, the first day of the weekend, the demonstrations were even more massive than in previous days, forcing the authorities to close the Algiers metro. This influx shows the determination, especially among students but also women marching on this international day dedicated to them, not to give in on their demands.

Near the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, the marches saw a few clashes between young people and the police, who responded to stone-throwing with tear gas. But, on the whole, the movement is pacifist.

"We are in 2019, we need a new president," said a young demonstrator. "We want a president who talks and walks," chanted another. The slogans were mostly humorous, as were the messages on the posters: a packet of cigarettes with the inscription "you are badly off, your system is seriously damaging our health", or a box of the brand "President" surrounded by the sentence "this camembert stinks less than your system!" and a simple cardboard box crossed out with a "We're making Algeria great again".

The threat of chaos to justify a fifth term for Abdelaziz Bouteflika

Faced with the criticism, the government first tried to suppress it and then to respond by making it obsolete. Through the voice of Abdelghani Zaalane, his campaign manager, the Algerian president promised, on Sunday 3 March 2019, to undertake reforms. Better still, if he were elected (which is not in doubt), he assures that he will only occupy his seat for one year. The time to organise a national conference "to form the basis of a new system" and to provoke an early election.

But this announcement had no effect on the mobilisation. On Thursday 7 March 2019, a communiqué from the Presidency of the Republic added a second layer by brandishing the danger of chaos. The text again presented Abdelaziz Bouteflika as the guarantor of peace in the face of the sword of Damocles of the bloody decade during the civil war. While welcoming the fact that 'democratic pluralism is now a palpable reality', the message warned against 'any insidious party, from within or without', causing unrest and infiltrating the protest movements.

Several associations historically close to the president have disassociated themselves in the last twenty-four hours from the government. Dissidents of the National Organisation of the Children of Chouhadas (ONEC), bringing together veterans of the war of independence, has thus rallied to the slogans of the demonstrators against the fifth mandate. Just like the National Organisation of Moujahidine (ONM) or the association of former MALG (intelligence service of the National Liberation Army during the war of independence).

A series of hoaxes at the Geneva hospital switchboard

As for President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, he is said to be still in Geneva since 24 February 2019 for "periodic medical examinations", as stated in a statement by the Algerian presidency. The hospital, however, says it has no such person on its patient list. On Wednesday 6 March 2019, his campaign manager assured that the stay was about to end and that his state of health "does not inspire any concern." He thus brushed aside the recent assertions of certain Swiss newspapers evoking an Algerian president "under permanent vital threat".
"From a fragile state that allows a more or less normal life, he has been transformed into a patient whose condition is very precarious and requires constant care," emphasised the Tribune de Genève, which spoke of respiratory tract examinations.

In Switzerland, the switchboard operators at the University Hospitals of Geneva (HUG) seem to be amused by the telephone messages that arrive from Algeria after their number has been broadcast on social networks. Most of them remain very good-natured, like this caller who says he has already delivered four pizzas that must be paid for or there will be no fifth pizza (see video above) in reference to the number of orders. Or this other writing on the HUG Facebook page a notice, "They perform miracles, even Bouteflika is back on his feet... finally on wheels!"

Candidacy files will be validated by 14 March 2019

The whimsical Rachid Nekkaz, a candidate via his namesake cousin after being rejected by the Constitutional Council, even went to the Swiss capital to "see if the candidate Bouteflika is well", he said on his Facebook account. However, he said that "everyone knows that he has been dead for a long time. While the former pretender to the French presidency (2007 and 2012) and then to the Algerian presidency in 2014, complains since late February 2019 to be under house arrest first in his village and then in his office near the Grande Poste in Algiers. The police arrested him and handcuffed him inside the hospital where President Bouteflika is being treated. At the time of writing, Rachid Nekkaz is still being questioned and is the subject of a complaint for housebreaking, says Joanna Matta, spokesperson for the Geneva police.

The Constitutional Council has received twenty-one candidatures and must decide on their validity by 14 March 2019.
On Thursday 7 March 2019 in Algiers, several lawyers succeeded in forcing police barricades and going in front of this institution to demand the inadmissibility of the candidacy of the Head of State. Journalists also continue to demonstrate to protest against the pressure exerted by their hierarchy to forbid them to talk about the events. A dozen journalists were arrested last week before being released.

The presidential election is scheduled for 18 April 2019.

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