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Abdelaziz returns to Algeria as mass protests swirl

  • Published at 09:37 pm March 11th, 2019
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Students march as they protest against Algeria's President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, in Algiers, Algeria March 10, 2019 Reuters

A government plane transporting the ailing president arrived at Boufarik military airport near the capital, Algiers

President Abdelaziz Bouteflika flew home to Algeria on Sunday after spending two weeks in a Swiss hospital, state television said, returning to a country where crowds of protesters have mounted the biggest threat to his 20-year rule.

A government plane transporting the ailing president arrived at Boufarik military airport near the capital, Algiers. Ennahar TV showed footage of what it said was a convoy of vehicles transporting him.

Tens of thousands from all social classes have been demonstrating unrelentingly for three weeks against his decision to stand in April's election, rejecting a stale political system dominated by veterans of an independence war against France that ended in 1962.

In the clearest indication yet that the generals sympathise with protesters, the chief of staff said the military and the people had a united vision of the future, state TV reported. Lieutenant General Gaed Salah did not mention the unrest.

Hours before Bouteflika's arrival, his ruling FLN party urged all sides to work together to end the crisis and promote national reconciliation, Ennahar TV said.

But the protesters are in no mood to compromise after rejecting Bouteflika's offer to limit his term after the election.

"We want Bouteflika and all his mafia to leave. They have to leave this country," said Salim, a high school student, among thousands of people demonstrating on Sunday.

Cracks in the fortress

Cracks are appearing in what has been described as "the fortress" around the elderly ruling elite, with a growing number of Bouteflika's long-time supporters, including FLN members, joining the peaceful rallies urging him to step down.

"Bouteflika’s system is over," said a commentator on Ennahar, which is close to the president's inner circle.

State TV carried a statement from the presidency saying he had returned to Algeria after routine medical checks.

The 82-year-old president has rarely been seen in public since a stroke in 2013. Last April, he appeared in Algiers in a wheelchair.

"We have taken to the streets today to protest a fifth presidential term. We are against a fifth term. It's enough," protester Zakaria said in front of the Central Postal Office.

Traders and workers staged a strike in Algiers and other cities. Shops in the capital were closed and train services suspended without explanation, residents said.

"We have not benefited from oil money because of corruption and mismanagement. Things must change for the better of our loved ones," said Yazid Hamimi, a 57-year-old bank employee.

Young Algerians are desperate for jobs and angry about unemployment and corruption, and complain that their leaders still dwell on the victory over France instead of improving living standards for the future.

"The current system is unable to provide jobs," said Farid Kahil, 27, who is unemployed.

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