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Tens of thousands of Algerian students join growing anti-Bouteflika protests

Ongoing demonstrations against President Abdelaziz Bouteflika's plan to run for a fifth term continue
A student carries a national flag during a protest in the capital Algiers against President Abdelaziz Bouteflika's bid for a fifth term on 26 February (AFP)

Tens of thousands of students joined a growing protest movement across Algeria after ailing President Abdelaziz Bouteflika announced plans to run for a fifth term earlier this month, Reuters news agency reported, citing witnesses.

Rallies in and around the capital and other cities have been ongoing for the past five days, with Tuesday’s protests led by university students.

Students were demanding that Bouteflika, 81, drop his intention to seek re-election in the 18 April presidential vote.

The student protesters, who chanted "peaceful, peaceful" and "no to a fifth term", were also asking for government steps to provide jobs, a Reuters news article said.

Roughly a quarter of Algerians under 30 are unemployed, according to World Bank data.

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"Many young people got their university degree but they are still unemployed," a student who gave his name as Djahid, told Reuters.

Protests against the news sparked on Friday, when tens of thousands of people took to the streets in the capital Algiers, where demonstrations are banned.

Since the ruling FLN party picked Bouteflika as its presidential candidate on 10 February, several political parties, trade unions and business organisations have already said they would back him; and he is expected to win the 18 April elections easily as the opposition remains weak and divided, AFP reported.

Bouteflika has clung to power since 1999 despite his ill health. He flew to Switzerland on Sunday for what the presidency called "routine medical checks" ahead of the election.  

Bouteflika, who uses a wheelchair and has rarely been seen in public since suffering a stroke in 2013, is Algeria's longest-serving president. 

Algeria's ruling party backs ailing President Bouteflika for fifth term
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'Not in my name'

The student-led protests on Tuesday were staged under the banner "not in my name" after 11 student unions expressed their support for Bouteflika and his 20-year rule. 

"We're organising a demonstration to show that these 11 unions do not represent us," 23-year-old civil engineering student Hakim, who declined to give his full name, told AFP at a university campus near Algiers.

Hundreds of students demonstrated at the University of Algiers, many of them waving Algerian flags and shouting "No to a fifth term" and "Bouteflika get out,” AFP reported.

University guards locked the gates of the main city centre campus to prevent students from spilling onto the streets, according to the news agency.

Security forces, including riot police, were deployed outside the campus and elsewhere in central Algiers while police vehicles were parked on roads leading to the university.

At the school of journalism, some 500 students protested on campus while another demonstration took place at the school of medicine, also in Algiers, with police blocking them inside the university grounds, AFP reported on Tuesday.

"In order to avoid any confrontation with the police, the students of several faculties (of the University of Algiers) decided to rally on campus," said Raouf, a journalism student who declined to give his surname, reported AFP.

He noted that police officers are not allowed to enter universities in Algeria.

Groups of students from numerous campuses rallied in different neighbourhoods before joining to form a march of thousands of people in the city centre, an AFP journalist said.

Police at first observed them before firing tear gas grenades when some students pelted them with stones, but the confrontation was short-lived, the reporter said.

Local media and websites also reported protests around Algiers and in other cities across the country.

Protests were also reported in the cities of Annaba, Constantine, Ouargla and Tizi Ouzou, all east of Algiers, according to the TSA news, a local French-language media website, but it was unclear how many students were taking part.

Up to 3,000 people marched in Annaba without incident, the majority on campuses to avoid risking arrest, a local journalist told AFP.

In the northwestern city of Oran, student protester Hamza told AFP that at least 1,000 students had gathered to demonstrate.

"Algeria has had and still has potential and the means to succeed," one student told AFP, blaming a small group for monopolising power and "not wanting to put good people in good spots".

University professors have urged colleagues to back the students, in a statement stressing the "duty to emulate the voice of the people who are rising against a real threat for our future and the stability of the country".

Despite the rare outpouring of public dissent, Bouteflika's campaign manager said the president would file formal papers for re-election on 3 March, 15 days before the vote, a Reuters article said.

"Nobody can decide to erase what we have in the constitution," Abdelmalek Sellal told a crowd of Bouteflika supporters in televised remarks, Reuters reported.

"It is his right to be a candidate."

Ongoing demonstrations

Dozens of people were detained in Friday's protests for "public disorder" and other acts of alleged violence.

Two days later, hundreds of protesters rallied in Algiers, but they were met by a heavy police deployment and tear gas.

On Monday, around 100 lawyers demonstrated in court against a fifth term for Bouteflika.

Meanwhile, press watchdog Reporters Without Borders on Tuesday accused Algerian authorities of seeking to "muzzle" media outlets since the start of the protests.

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