Bouteflika warns of ‘chaos’ as protests continue against his candidacy

In this file photo taken on May 04, 2017, Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika is seen on a wheelchair as he casts his vote at a polling station in Algiers during parliamentary elections. (Photo by AFP)
In this file photo taken on May 04, 2017, Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika is seen on a wheelchair as he casts his vote at a polling station in Algiers during parliamentary elections. (Photo by AFP)

Algeria’s President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who is facing protests against his bid for a fifth term in office, has called for vigilance, saying foreign or domestic groups may seek to stoke chaos in the North African country.

Demonstrations have been staged almost daily in Algeria since February 22, with Bouteflika cautioning protesters not to allow their peaceful rallies to be manipulated as he invoked the country’s decades-long civil war.

“Breaking this peaceful expression by any treacherous internal or foreign group may lead to sedition and chaos and resulting crises and woes,” the 82-year-old leader wrote in a letter on Thursday on the eve of a major rally.

The elections are due to be held on April 18 but protesters are unlikely to give up demanding the resignation of Bouteflika, who uses a wheelchair and has rarely been seen in public since he suffered a stroke in 2013.

He has been in Switzerland since February 24 for what his office has described as “routine medical tests,” without giving an exact fate for his return home.

In the letter, Bouteflika urged protesters to exercise “vigilance and caution” and warned of a return to the “national tragedy” of the country’s decade-long civil war and of the “crises and tragedies caused by terrorism” in neighboring countries.

Algerian lawyers and journalists take part in a protest against their ailing president’s bid for a fifth term in power, in Algiers on March 7, 2019. (Photo by AFP)

Bouteflika’s letter came as some 1,000 lawyers took to the streets of the capital Algiers on Thursday, saying his ill health should disqualify him from the upcoming elections.

“We are asking the Constitutional Council to assume its responsibilities … This candidacy is inadmissible,” protester Ahmed Dahim, a member of the Bar Association of Algiers, said as his fellow demonstrators chanted “No to the fifth mandate.”

The Constitutional Council must decide on the candidates by March 14.

Opponents also cite what they call chronic corruption and a lack of economic reform to tackle unemployment.

On Sunday, Bouteflika promised that if re-elected, he would order a referendum on a new constitution and call an early election where he would not run.

The compromise came nearly three weeks after he announced that he would once again participate in the presidential race, infuriating his opponents and unleashing major protests in the country.

Algeria’s divided opposition and civic groups have called for more protests against Bouteflika’s 20-year rule if he proceeds to seek another term.

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