Thousands of students on Tuesday joined a growing protest movement in Algeria against ailing President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s bid for a fifth term, with rallies in and around the capital and other cities.
Bouteflika, who uses a wheelchair and has rarely been seen in public since suffering a stroke in 2013, announced on February 10 that he would seek re-election in the April 18 vote.
His decision has sparked angry protests in the North African country, with tens of thousands of people taking to the streets on Friday in Algiers where demonstrations are banned.
The scale of those protests took many in Algeria by surprise, and they were followed by more rallies on Sunday and Monday.
On Tuesday it was the turn of university students to vent their anger at Bouteflika’s bid to extend his 20 years in power.
Around 500 students demonstrated at the University of Algiers, many of them waving Algerian flags and shouting “No to a fifth term” and “Bouteflika get out”.
University guards locked the gates of the main city centre campus to prevent students from spilling onto the streets.
Security forces, including riot police, deployed outside the campus and elsewhere in central Algiers while police vehicles were parked on roads leading to the university.
At the faculty of journalism, some 500 students protested on campus, while another demonstration took place at the school of medicine, also in Algiers, with police blocking them inside the university grounds.
“In order to avoid any confrontation with the police, the students of several faculties (of the University of Algiers) decided to rally on campus,” said Raouf, a journalism student who declined to give his surname.
He noted that police officers are not allowed to enter universities in Algeria.
Groups of students from numerous campuses rallied in different neighbourhoods before joining to form a march of thousands of people in the city centre, an AFP journalist said.
Police at first observed them before firing tear gas grenades when some students pelted them with stones, but the confrontation was short-lived, the reporter said.
Residents offered bottles of water to the students, whose protest concluded calmly mid-afternoon.
– ‘Not in my name’ –
Local media and websites reported protests around Algiers and in other cities across the country.
Protests were also reported in the cities of Annaba, Constantine, Ouargla and Tizi Ouzou, all east of Algiers, according to the TSA news website, but it was unclear how many students were taking part.
Up to 3,000 people marched in Annaba without incident, the majority on campuses to avoid risking arrest, a local journalist told AFP.
In the northwestern city of Oran, student protester Hamza said at least 1,000 had gathered to demonstrate.
“I joined in because I share the same cause,” he told AFP of the rally, at the University of Oran 2 campus.
“Algeria has had and still has potential and the means to succeed,” said Hamza, blaming a small group for monopolising power and “not wanting to put good people in good spots”.
Tuesday’s protest — staged under the banner “not in my name” — came in response to calls to demonstrate posted online after 11 student unions expressed their support for Bouteflika.
“We’re organising a demonstration to show that these 11 unions do not represent us,” 23-year-old civil engineering student Hakim, who also declined to give his full name, told AFP at another campus near Algiers.
According to the World Bank, one-third of Algeria’s population of 15 million are young people under the age of 20 and are those worst hit by unemployment.
University professors have urged colleagues to back the students in a statement stressing the “duty to emulate the voice of the people who are rising against a real threat for our future and the stability of the country”.
Despite days of protest, Bouteflika’s campaign director said the president’s candidacy would be formally submitted on Sunday.
Dozens of people were detained in Friday’s protests for “public disorder” and other acts of alleged violence.
Two days later hundreds of protesters rallied in Algiers, but they were met by a heavy police deployment and tear gas.
On Monday, around 100 lawyers demonstrated in court against a fifth term for Bouteflika.
Meanwhile, press watchdog Reporters Without Borders on Tuesday accused Algerian authorities of seeking to “muzzle” media since the start of the protests.
Bouteflika, 81, who has clung to power since 1991 despite his ill health, flew to Switzerland on Sunday for what the presidency called “routine medical checks” ahead of the election.