Algeria's Rare Protests Gain Urgency as Election Deadline Nears

(Bloomberg) -- The biggest anti-government protests in Algeria in years gained urgency on Sunday, as the deadline for its ailing president to formalize his bid for a fifth term approached.

Police, who have been grappling with rare shows of dissent across the country for more than a week, fired water cannon to break up demonstrations on the capital, Algiers, outside the Constitutional Council building where candidacy papers have to be filed. The protesters, many of them young, want 82-year-old President Abdelaziz Bouteflika to withdraw from next month’s presidential vote.

Bouteflika, who has led the country since 1999 and is credited with restoring calm after a decade-long civil war, has been rarely been seen in public since suffering a stroke in 2013.

The protests have largely been peaceful, demanding a new government that can create jobs and improve the standard of living in the North African OPEC member. They’ve drawn in a wide range of people, including business leaders, who have invoked Algeria’s war of independence from France.

It’s not clear if Bouteflika is still hospitalized in Switzerland, and whether he needs to file the candidacy papers in person by the midnight deadline.

Opposition leaders and protesters called on the military to safeguard the right to demonstrate -- a clear call for the army to stand alongside them. Analysts say Algeria’s politics is dominated by political and military veterans, and those bonds are often stronger than attempts by a disorganized opposition to bring about change.

At least eight people have officially registered to run in the poll. However, some opposition groups and prominent figures including former prime minister Ali Benflis, who took part in the protests, ultimately bowed out.

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