Algeria Clamps Down as Protests Build Versus Aging President

(Bloomberg) -- Algerian police detained a presidential contender Thursday and arrested journalists protesting ailing President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s candidacy in April elections on the eve of what could be the biggest day of demonstrations yet.

Ghani Mahdi, a 48-year-old journalist and outspoken Bouteflika critic who’s declared he’s running, was guided out of a metro station by policemen, according to video uploaded to his campaign Facebook page. Mahdi was later detained, according to another posting.

In Algiers, policemen waded into the rally and bundled up to 40 journalists into waiting trucks. They were released Thursday night, one of the journalists, Mohand Redaoui, told Bloomberg by phone.

About 200 journalists had been chanting “No to a fifth term,” the signature slogan at protest rallies opposing another term in office for the wheelchair-bound 81-year-old Bouteflika. They also called for an end to restrictions that have prevented them reporting on the unrest.

The rising unrest has heaped pressure on the government of the OPEC member, which has been struggling to cope with a litany of grievances, such as high unemployment among a predominantly young population. Bouteflika, who was incapacitated by a stroke in 2013, still has support for bringing Algeria together following a decade long civil war in the 1990s, but the protesters say it’s time he retire.

The North African nation, which avoided the violence and unrest that gripped Arab Spring neighbors, is bracing for nationwide rallies Friday, scheduled to be held after the weekly noon prayers. Previous demonstrations have been mostly peaceful, but police have used tear gas in Algiers.

The government says Algerians have a right to protest. But the ruling coalition has shown no sign that it would listen to their demands, with Bouteflika submitting his candidacy papers this week.

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