Tens of thousands protest in Algeria as Bouteflika stays defiant

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Algerian female protesters wear their national flags as they demonstrate against their ailing president's bid for a fifth term in power, in Algiers on March 8, 2019. (AFP)
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Algerian protesters hold banners reading "No to a fifth bid" as they demonstrate against their ailing president's bid for a fifth term in power, in Algiers on March 8, 2019. (AFP)
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A police officer stands guard as people protest against Algeria's President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, in Algiers, Algeria March 8, 2019. The sign reads: "No to the fifth term." (Reuters)
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Youths hold a poster of Bouteflika and their national flag as they demonstrate in Algiers, Friday, March 8, 2019. (AP)
Updated 11 March 2019
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Tens of thousands protest in Algeria as Bouteflika stays defiant

  • On Thursday, Bouteflika issued his first warning to protesters, saying the unrest — the biggest since the 2011 “Arab Spring” — could destabilize Algeria
  • The president has not spoken in public since suffering a stroke in 2013, and is currently in hospital in Geneva

ALGIERS: Tens of thousands protested across Algeria on Friday in the biggest rallies yet against ailing President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s bid for a fifth term, despite the defiant leader’s warning of the risk of “chaos.”
A march in the capital Algiers was slowed to a near-crawl by the huge numbers taking part, swelled by women marking International Women’s Day and chanting “No fifth term — hey, Bouteflika!“
Waving Algeria’s green-white-and-red flags, men and women converged on the city’s landmark Grand Post Office square after weekly prayers.
“The people are here, from all social classes, from the youngest to the eldest, everyone is saying ‘no to a fifth term, please, leave, you won’t even be judged’,” said Kamel, a 37-year-old protester in the capital.
The police fired tear gas and stun grenades to disperse those who tried to force their way through a police cordon that was blocking access to a road leading toward the presidency, an AFP journalist said.
While demonstrators dispersed calmly as darkness fell, small groups of young people clashed with the police.
The unrest left 112 members of the security forces injured, according to police, who said they had arrested 195 people suspected of “vandalism.”
The overall atmosphere through the day was calm and festive, and numerous people attended with their children.
Huge crowds — again far surpassing those seen the previous Friday — also protested in the second and third cities of Oran and Constantine, local journalists on the ground told AFP.
A journalist in Oran said the whole city “is out (on the streets)... this has never been seen before.”
Major demonstrations were reported in other cities across the country by security sources, Algerian media and social networks.
In a message released on Thursday night, Bouteflika — who uses a wheelchair and has rarely been seen in public since a 2013 stroke — warned that troublemakers may try to infiltrate the demonstrations.
“Many of our fellow citizens” have demonstrated across the North African country “to peacefully express their views,” he said.
“However, we must call for vigilance and caution in case this peaceful expression is infiltrated by some insidious party... which could cause chaos,” he said, without mention of the demands that he abandon his bid to seek re-election on April 18.
Bouteflika flagged the risk of a return to the “national tragedy” of Algeria’s decade-long civil war in the 1990s and of the “crises and tragedies caused by terrorism” in neighboring countries.
The head of state has been in Switzerland since February 24 for what the presidency describes as “routine medical tests,” and a date for his return home has not yet been announced.
Swiss police said Rachid Nekkaz — a businessman and political activist opposed to Bouteflika — was arrested on Friday outside the Geneva hospital where the president is being treated.
He will be held overnight and appear before a prosecutor on Saturday, police spokesman Jean-Philippe Brandt told AFP.
Nekkaz fell foul of Algerian electoral laws because he has previously held French nationality and stood aside for a cousin of the same name to run on his behalf.
Algeria has largely avoided the conflicts unleashed by the Arab Spring uprisings that brought down rulers in neighboring Tunisia and Libya.
But discontent, particularly among the young, turned to anger after the veteran leader announced on February 10 that he would seek another term.
Calls had circulated widely on social media under the hashtag “March 8 Movement” for massive but peaceful demonstrations in the capital and cities across the North African state on Friday.
“I will not throw a single stone!” and “No windows will be smashed,” were among “18 commandments” sent out to participants by poet and writer Lazhari Labter, as well as instructions to clean up streets after the protests.
He also called for demonstrators to turn the event into “a day of celebration” and one of “love, faith, Algerian flags and roses.”
Michael Ayari, an analyst for the International Crisis Group, told AFP that there is no “anti-police (or) anti-army dimension” to the protests, unlike the beginning of the Arab Spring in Tunisia in 2011.
He said “the army could try to steer a possible transition process,” citing retired general Ali Ghediri — a presidential candidate — as a potential consensus choice.
Despite a ban dating back to 2001, demonstrations have been staged almost daily in Algiers since a massive rally two weeks ago.
Around 1,000 lawyers took to the streets of Algiers on Thursday, arguing that the president’s ill health should disqualify him from the race.
They breached police cordons to march on the Constitutional Council, the body tasked with approving the candidacy of those registered to contest the poll.


UN envoy sees troop withdrawal in Yemen’s Hodeidah within weeks

Updated 24 min 40 sec ago
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UN envoy sees troop withdrawal in Yemen’s Hodeidah within weeks

  • The UN has struggled to implement a pact agreed at talks last December in Sweden, the first major breakthrough in peace efforts to end the war
  • Griffiths said he had received on Sunday the formal acceptance of the legitimate government and the Houthis to implement a first phase of troop redeployments

DUBAI: Yemen’s warring parties could start withdrawing forces from the main port city of Hodeidah within weeks, a move needed to pave the way for political negotiations to end the four-year war, the UN special envoy said on Thursday.
Martin Griffiths said he had received on Sunday the formal acceptance of the legitimate government and the Iran-backed Houthi group to implement a first phase of troop redeployments, while discussions were still underway for the second phase.
The United Nations has struggled to implement a pact agreed at talks last December in Sweden, the first major breakthrough in peace efforts to end the war that has killed tens of thousands and pushed Yemen to the brink of famine.
“The two parties agreed formally to the concept of operations for phase one. What we are doing now is ... moving on as planned from there to agree on phase two,” Griffiths told Reuters in a telephone interview without elaborating, adding that talks would “intensify” in coming days.
“So we don’t have an exact date at the moment for the beginning of this physical redeployment,” he said. “It’s got to be weeks ... hopefully few weeks.”
Sources have told Reuters the first phase would see the Houthis leave the city’s ports and pro-government forces leave some areas on the city’s outskirts. In the second phase, both sides would pull troops to 18 km from the city and heavy weapons 30 km away.
The Hodeidah deal was a trust building step aimed at averting a full-scale assault on Hodeidah by the Arab coalition trying to restore the legitimate government of Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, and paving the way for political talks to set up a transitional government.
Danish general Michael Lollesgaard, head of the UN observer team in Hodeidah, chairs a Redeployment Coordination Committee (RCC) tasked with hammering out details not spelled out in the pact.
A cease-fire in Houthi-held Hodeidah has largely held but violence has escalated elsewhere in the country. The troop withdrawal was due to have been completed by Jan. 7 but stalled over disagreement on who would control the Red Sea port city.
Asked if that issue had been resolved, Griffiths said: “We have ideas on how to bridge the gap on the issue of the local security forces” but it would be up to the parties represented in the RCC headed by Lollesgaard to resolve it.
Three sources told Reuters last month that the first phase would see the Houthis pull back 5 km (3 miles) from the ports of Saleef, used for grain, and Ras Isa, for oil. Then the Houthis would quit Hodeidah port while coalition forces would retreat 1 km from the city’s “Kilo 8” and Saleh districts.
This would restore access cut off since September to the Red Sea Mills, which holds some 50,000 tons of World Food Programme grain, enough to feed 3.7 million people, and allow humanitarian corridors to be reopened.
Hodeidah handles the bulk of Yemen’s commercial and aid supplies and is critical for feeding the population of 30 million people. It became a focus of fighting last year, raising concern that an all-out assault could disrupt supply lines and trigger mass starvation in the poorest Arabian Peninsula nation.
“I know we’re spending an enormous amount of time, and rightly so, on Hodeidah, but it’s the gateway to the comprehensive settlement and of course failure in Hodeida is not an option,” Griffiths said.
“The aim ultimately of an agreement which will resolve the conflict and end this war is to return governing of Yemen to politicians, to return to the people of Yemen accountable government.”