By Agence France-Presse
Hundreds of school teachers and students protested in the Algerian capital on Wednesday amid fears that President Abdelaziz Bouteflika plans to extend his two-decade rule.
In a surprise announcement Monday, the ailing 82-year-old said he would not stand for a fifth term – but also cancelled next month’s presidential election.
After initial celebration following Bouteflika’s announcement, protesters returned to the streets of the capital Tuesday, accusing the 82-year-old of “tricks”.
On Wednesday, an AFP correspondent saw middle and high school teachers protesting alongside their students at a rally in central Algiers that drew more than 1,000 demonstrators.
“It’s about the future of our children,” said Driss, a teacher at a high school in the Algerian capital.
“It’s important that we teachers mobilise,” he said after taking a selfie with some of his students.
The protesters carried signs saying: “No to the extension of a fourth term!” and “Times have changed: we are the power and you are despair so get out.”
Schools in Algeria have been hit by a partial strike in recent days as protests have repeatedly rocked the capital and other major cities.
On Wednesday teachers took part in rallies across Algeria’s 48 provinces, Idir Achour, a member of a school union, told AFP.
The veteran leader’s promise of a “national conference” to carry out reforms and set a date for new elections “before the end of 2019” suggested he may stay in office for another year.
University students have been at the forefront of the protest movement, in a country where half the population is under the age of 30 and many have never known any president other than Bouteflika.
Protest strikes first launched on Sunday continued to grip several regions, including Tizi Ouzou, Bouira and Kabylie, local officials said.
In Bouria “everything is shut down” including shops and public transport, one of them said.
The port of Bejaia, one of the country’s main harbours, is “paralysed” and a strike at the Naftal company which distributes fuel and petrol was slowing down work at gas stations, a local journalist said.
The authorities have sought to tamp down suspicions of a ploy for Bouteflika to cling to power, with new deputy prime minister Ramtane Lamamra insisting the national conference should happen “as soon as possible”.
“The absolute priority is to reunite the Algerians and allow them to go together towards a better future,” Lamamra told state radio Wednesday.
“It’s not about staying in power for a few weeks or a few months more.”
Lakhdar Brahimi, a veteran diplomat and former UN envoy for Syria, on Wednesday denied having been appointed as head of the proposed conference, in remarks on state television.
“It is not true. I am not looking for a posting… but this is my country. I cannot say no (if asked to serve) but I would prefer if they find a man or a woman better than me” for the job, he said.
Brahimi’s name came to the forefront after he paid a visit Monday to Bouteflika, following the president’s return from Switzerland where he spent two weeks at a hospital for medical checks.
He said that Bouteflika, who uses a wheelchair and has rarely appeared in public since suffering a stroke in 2013, was in fairly good health.
“His voice is weak and he cannot give a speech in public or on television but he has regained one hundred percent his intellectual faculties,” he said, said 85-year-old Brahimi.
He added however that Bouteflika “cannot move his feet” but “moves his hands”.