Embattled Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika has declared his candidacy for next month’s election, defying massive protests in the country over the ailing and absent ruler’s refusal to relinquish his grip on power.
The 82-year-old leader suffered a stroke in 2013 and has rarely been seen in public since, but nonetheless plans to run for a fifth term, his campaign manager Abdelghani Zaalane said Sunday on national television.
Zaalane said Bouteflika would call for early elections, but only if he is elected again.
Bouteflika would organize a national conference to open the way for a debate to consider proposals to amend the constitution and decide the timing for early elections, Zaalane said.
Bouteflika vowed not to run in those elections, Zaalane added.
The announcement is likely to prompt further discontent in the North African country after a weekend that saw one of its largest and most impassioned displays of public dissent since the war of independence from France ended in 1962.
It is widely believed that the President, who was first elected in 1999, is largely incapacitated, and has left the reins of the country in the hands of a military and civilian elite in recent years.
He had previously signalled a fifth run and appeared to be stepping up preparations on Saturday, with state news agency Algérie Presse Service (APS) reporting he had replaced his long-time campaign manager.
The announcement means his two decades of rule could continue after the country goes to the polls on April 18.
Bouteflika’s move will enrage protesters who have been leading an expression of public fury rarely seen in a country tightly controlled by security services.
Many of the activists have been calling for the elections to be scrapped altogether, and for a more drastic overhaul of the country’s government.
Police vans and anti-riot vehicles surrounded government buildings in Algiers on Sunday morning ahead of the expected demonstrations.
Hours later, thousands of students from universities in Algiers led street action, calling for an end to the ruling regime and shouting slogans including, “You destroyed the country, you bunch of thieves,” “People want to down the regime” and “No to fifth mandate.”
The students have chanted that their march is peaceful, but an eyewitness told CNN that special forces have beaten some students in the motorway leading to Algiers as they managed to break police lines.
Marches also took place in solidarity in the French cities of Paris and Marseille.
At least one man died and 183 people were injured in earlier action on Friday, the minister of Health, Population and Hospital Reform said.
Security forces fired tear gas at activists during the demonstration, during which some protesters called for the April presidential elections to be called off altogether and for parliament to be dissolved to make way for a new government.
Video on social media showed protesters this week setting pictures of Bouteflika on fire amid whistles and cheers.