Tue, Mar 12, 2019 - Page 6 News List

Bouteflika returns to Algeria, signaling intent to maintain push for re-election

PROTESTS:Opposition leader Zubida Assoul said the president’s return was inconsequential and what the people want is a government reply to their demands

Bloomberg

A convoy believed to carry Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika drives toward Algiers on Sunday.

Photo: AP

Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika arrived home from Geneva, Switzerland, on Sunday, signaling that he intends to push ahead with his bid for re-election in the face of mass demonstrations demanding he step aside.

Bouteflika’s decision to run for a fifth term has triggered protests in the North African OPEC member, presenting the 82-year-old leader and ruling National Liberation Front (FLN) party with their most serious challenge since his election in 1999.

His promises to amend the constitution and serve an abridged term if re-elected in the April 18 ballot have failed to satisfy protesters frustrated with le pouvoir, a cabal of military officers, veterans of Algeria’s war of independence and businessmen who have governed the oil and gas producer for decades.

In a statement released hours before Bouteflika was discharged from a Geneva hospital and rushed to the airport, the FLN said it was working with all political groups to find a way out of the crisis while preserving the national interest, hinting that the ruling elite was looking to appease the street without unsettling the political structure.

In another indication that authorities were preparing to respond to nationwide demonstrations, which began on Feb. 22 and have drawn in ever larger numbers, Algerian military chief of staff General Ahmed Gaid Salah struck a conciliatory tone.

Eschewing earlier warnings against unrest that could drive Algeria back to the ruinous days of the 1990s civil war, Salah said the military and the people “are partners in one destiny.”

“The president’s arrival or lack thereof changes nothing,” Zubida Assoul, leader of the small opposition Union for Change and Progress said in live comments on Hadath television network.

“What all of the Algerian people are awaiting is for the authorities to declare their response to the people,” Assoul said.

Bouteflika has been largely incapacitated and rarely seen in public since having a stroke in 2013.

Swiss media reported in recent days that his health was deteriorating.

The official Algeria Press Service news agency reported that Bouteflika had returned after medical checks in Geneva.

Live images showed the president’s plane and motorcade, but he was yet to appear in public.

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