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Algerian protesters step up demands for President Bouteflika to resign

Thousands of Algerians are expected at Friday protests against President Bouteflika [AFP/Getty]

Date of publication: 15 March, 2019

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Algerians prepare for the first Friday rallies since President Bouteflika's controversial announcement that he would not seek re-election but cancelled April polls.

Thousands of demonstrators gathered in the centre of the Algerian capital for a fourth consecutive Friday demanding the ouster of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika.

Crowds in the capital's landmark Grand Poste square was growing, AFP reported, two hours before the scheduled start of a demonstration calling on the 82-year-old to step down after two decades in power.

Riot police vans lined the street and helicopters circled above in preparation for what some consider decisive protests against the ailing president.

Students, teachers, judges, unions and others have said they are planning to join the protests in the capital and other Algerian cities.

Algeria's new prime minister, Noureddine Bedoui, sought to calm tensions on Thursday ahead of the planned demonstrations. People "must show calm and act peacefully", Bedoui said, calling for "dialogue" to resolve the situation.

Bouteflika ceded to protesters' demands that he abandon plans for a fifth term, and promised reforms addressing concerns of Algeria's frustrated youth. But he also cancelled the 18 April presidential election without setting a new date, allowing him to cling to power indefinitely.

Protestors initially celebrated when they heard the news he would not stand for a fifth term, but his move to cancel the vote prompted accusations of "tricks" and triggered fresh protests.

Friday's protests will be a key test of whether the ailing president's manoeuvre has dampened anger on the streets.

The protest movement has been led by students, in a country where half the population is under the age of 30 and youth unemployment has spurred anger against a government seen as out of touch.

Bedoui, who replaced unpopular premier Ahmed Ouyahia, defended the postponement of the poll which many see as unconstitutional.

"We have heard the message of the Algerian youth," he said on Thursday, adding that the new government would be revealed by next week at the latest.

Bouteflika has promised a "national conference" to carry out reforms and set a date for new elections "before the end of 2019", suggesting he may stay in office for another year.

Incoming Deputy Prime Minister Ramtane Lamamra, who appeared alongside Bedoui at a news conference in Algiers, said the previous evening that the conference should happen "as soon as possible".

"The absolute priority is to reunite the Algerians and allow them to go together towards a better future," he said. "It's not about staying in power for a few weeks or a few months more."

Bouteflika returned from Switzerland, where he was undergoing "routine medical checks", on Sunday. Algerians have barely seen their president since he suffered a stroke in 2013.

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