Security ramped up in Algerian capital ahead of protests

Earlier this month, Bouteflika, who has ruled the North African country since 1999, announced his intention to seek a new five year term in the elections scheduled for April 18.
Friday 22/02/2019
Abdallah Djaballah, president of Algeria's Justice and Development Front, an Islamist party, attends a political opposition meeting in Algiers, Feb.20, 2019. (AP)
Abdallah Djaballah, president of Algeria's Justice and Development Front, an Islamist party, attends a political opposition meeting in Algiers, Feb.20, 2019. (AP)

Security forces were deployed in large numbers in Algiers on Friday in the run-up to protests against incumbent President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s bid for a fifth term in office, witnesses said.

Online activists have called for nationwide protests, which are expected to start after the Friday noon prayers.

Main streets in the capital looked empty early Friday as helicopters were hovering in the sky, a witness said.

Internet service in Algeria overnight experienced a brief breakdown, which activists said was an attempt by authorities to hamper efforts to mobilise for Friday’s protests, a claim the government has denied.

Earlier this month, Bouteflika, who has ruled the North African country since 1999, announced his intention to seek a new five year term in the elections scheduled for April 18.

The 81-year-old suffered a stroke in 2013 and is rarely seen in public.

The announcement was met with protests across the country.

However, representatives of opposition parties failed to agree on a single candidate to run against Bouteflika after a five-hour meeting this week.

Bouteflika is the only president in North Africa who was spared in the pro-democracy uprisings of the Arab Spring that started in neighbouring Tunisia in 2010.

At the time, his government contained pro-democracy protests with promises of reform and pay raises, financed by the country’s revenues from oil and gas.

In recent years, Algeria’s finances have been hurt by the global drop in oil prices, prompting cuts in state subsidies.