Algeria’s prime minister on Monday insisted voters would determine if ailing President Abdelaziz Bouteflika gets a fifth term at the ballot box, after major protests against his candidacy.
Tens of thousands of people on Friday took to the streets, including in the capital Algiers where demonstrations are forbidden, to vent their ire at Bouteflika’s bid to extend his 20 years in power at elections in April.
Presidential polls “will take place in less than two months, and everyone will make their choice freely”, Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia said in televised comments that were the first official reaction to the protests.
“Everyone has the right to support their candidate and be against any other candidate, the ballot box will decide in a peaceful and civilised way.”
Bouteflika, who uses a wheelchair and has rarely been seen in public since suffering a stroke in 2013, announced on February 10 that he will run for another term in office.
The veteran leader flew to Switzerland on Sunday for what the presidency called “routine medical checks” ahead of the April 18 vote.
Ouyahia said Bouteflika has pledged to hold a national “conference, unprecedented in the history of Algeria” if he is reelected, where “everything” can be discussed.
The premier urged Algerians to show “vigilance”, claiming that the “calls to demonstrate were from an unknown source” and could get out of hand.
“Algeria has been through enough suffering and experienced enough reforms to have the opportunity to choose in peace and quiet,” he said.
The scale of the demonstrations on Friday took many in the North African state by surprise.
A follow-up call for protests by a small opposition group drew hundreds in central Algiers Sunday, but they were met by a heavy police deployment and tear gas.
Bouteflika, who has governed Algeria since 1999, was instrumental in fostering peace after a decade-long civil war in the 1990s.
###CREDIT TO THE GUARDIAN NEWS###