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March 14, 2019

Algerians protest against Bouteflika


March 14, 2019

ALGIERS: Hundreds of school teachers and students protested in the Algerian capital on Wednesday amid fears that President Abdelaziz Bouteflika plans to extend his two-decade rule.

In a surprise announcement on Monday, the ailing 82-year-old said he would not stand for a fifth term -- but also cancelled next month’s presidential election. After initial celebration following Bouteflika’s announcement, protesters returned to the streets of the capital on Tuesday, accusing the 82-year-old of "tricks".

On Wednesday, an AFP correspondent saw middle and high school teachers protesting alongside their students at a rally in central Algiers that drew more than 1,000 demonstrators. "It’s about the future of our children," said Driss, a teacher at a high school in the Algerian capital.

"It’s important that we teachers mobilise," he said after taking a selfie with some of his students. The protesters carried signs saying: "No to the extension of a fourth term!" and "Times have changed: we are the power and you are despair so get out."

Schools in Algeria have been hit by a partial strike in recent days as protests have repeatedly rocked the capital and other major cities. On Wednesday teachers took part in rallies across Algeria’s 48 provinces, Idir Achour, a member of a school union, told AFP.

The veteran leader’s promise of a "national conference" to carry out reforms and set a date for new elections "before the end of 2019" suggested he may stay in office for another year.

University students have been at the forefront of the protest movement, in a country where half the population is under the age of 30 and many have never known any president other than Bouteflika. Protest strikes first launched on Sunday continued to grip several regions, including Tizi Ouzou, Bouira and Kabylie, local officials said.

In Bouria "everything is shut down" including shops and public transport, one of them said. The port of Bejaia, one of the country’s main harbours, is "paralysed" and a strike at the Naftal company which distributes fuel and petrol was slowing down work at gas stations, a local journalist said.

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