Anti-Bouteflika strikes hit Algeria's schools, transport
March 10 2019 06:03 PM
Students protest against Algeria's President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, in Algiers
Students protest against Algeria's President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, in Algiers

AFP/Algiers

Thousands of students took to the streets of Algeria on Sunday against President Abdelaziz Bouteflika's bid for a fifth term, as schools shut and transport in the capital halted as part of a protest strike.

No trains, metros, trams or buses left or circulated within Algiers, employees of the companies running those networks told AFP.

Around 1,000 high school students gathered peacefully in central Algiers, while others marched in cities elsewhere.

Bouteflika has been in power since 1999 but suffered a stroke in 2013, and his rare public appearances since have been in a wheelchair.

His announcement on February 10 that he will run in next month's elections has provoked weeks of protests, with tens of thousands taking to the streets after weekly prayers on consecutive Fridays.

Most shops in the capital's commercial centre were closed on Sunday, an AFP journalist said.

Residents said shops were also closed in the poor district of Bab el Oued and in the suburb of Zeralda, but they were open in other areas.

As protests have gained pace over the past two weeks, Bouteflika has been in Switzerland for what his office has called routine medical checks.

On Sunday the government plane that transported him to Geneva returned to the Swiss city, although officials have not announced whether it is set to repatriate the 82-year-old leader.

- 'Free and democratic!' -

As the protest strike continued, students and teachers occupied a number of universities, defying the education ministry's ruling a day earlier to bring holidays forward.

Students have been at the heart of protests and the decision to start spring break on Sunday, instead of March 21, will affect many whose family homes are far from campuses which are set to close over the holidays.

‘Algeria free and democratic!’ cried students at the University of Science and Technology Houari Boumediene in Algiers, where around 2,000 gathered Sunday to rally against the decision and keep up their protest against Bouteflika.

The opposition to the president shows that ‘the Bouteflika system is broken and that it will break up’, said former prime minister Ali Benflis, in an interview with France's Le Journal du Dimanche newspaper.

But while businesses were shut and protests continued in Algiers, in the second city Oran all the shops in the commercial centre opened.

‘We don't have the impression that there's a general strike,’ a journalist for Algerian media said from the city.

Another local reporter said half of businesses were closed in Constantine, Algeria's third city, adding that high schools students had taken to the streets there.

‘Everything is closed’ in the city of Bejaia in the Kabylie region, Achour Idir, a trade unionist in the education sector, told AFP.

He said the city was in ‘total paralysis’ due to high schools, colleges, government offices and businesses closing.

Local news site TSA said strikes by workers had brought sugar and oil production ‘to a halt’ at the privately-owned Cevital firm, and also hit several sectors at state-owned oil giant Sonatrach.



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