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Thousands of Algerians protest against Bouteflika's re-election

Police crack down on demonstrations with tear gas, as president's bid for a fifth term causes widespread anger
Protesters on the streets in Algiers (Twitter)

Thousands of Algerian protesters took to the streets of Algiers on Friday to declare their opposition to octogenarian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika's bid to be re-elected next month.

Police fired tear gas at demonstrators who marched in the capital after Friday prayers, according to witnesses who spoke to Reuters news agency.

At least a dozen demonstrators were wounded by police, who used batons and tear gas grenades, AFP reported.

Bouteflika, 81, has been in office since 1999 but rarely appeared in public since he suffered a stroke in 2013. When he has, the president has only appeared in a wheelchair and is widely believed to be incapacitated.

Protests have been roiling across Algeria for a week, in response to Bouteflika's 10 February announcement that he would be running for re-election on 18 April.

Bouteflika is expected to officially submit his election application on Sunday.

Protesters on Friday marched in several Algerian cities chanting “bye bye Bouteflika” and “peaceful, peaceful”.

Social media users posted images of 83-year-old Algerian icon Djamila Bouhired, a heroine of the 1954-1962 independence war against France, who joined the protests and told reporters: "I'm happy to be here."

Other cities also witnessed similar demonstrations, including Oran, Constantine, Setif, Tizi Ouzou and Bouira.

On Thursday, police arrested a dozen journalists who rallied against what they said were state-backed efforts to block media coverage of the anti-Bouteflika protests, but they were released on the same day.

Rights group Amnesty International warned the Algerian government against using force on the peaceful protesters, and said the state’s response would be “a crucial test of its commitment to upholding the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly”.

Since protests first erupted on 21 February, Algerian police have repeatedly used tear gas against protesters, as well as arresting some of them.

The protests against Bouteflika’s re-election are also driven by an ailing economy and the lack of job opportunities that have afflicted the country since austerity measures were put in place following the drop in oil prices in 2014.

Several political parties, trade unions and business organisations have declared their support for Bouteflika’s bid, while the opposition remains largely divided.

Algerian Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia warned of a “Syrian scenario” in his country during a parliament session on Thursday.

“Some demonstrators offered roses to the policemen. But we should recall that in Syria it also began with roses," he said.

Syria has been mired in an eight-year war after security forces cracked down on peaceful anti-government protests, leaving hundreds of thousand dead. Algeria suffered its own civil war in the 1990s in which some 200,000 people died.

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