Algerians Rally Against Ailing President As Opposition Activist Arrested in Switzerland

<i>Masses of Algerians have protested demanding hospitalized President Abdelaziz Bouteflika drop his bid for a fifth term. One opposition member went to great lengths to obtain details on the president's current condition.</i>

Massive protests against President Bouteflika in Algeria

Tens of thousands of Algerians marched through the streets of Algiers and other cities across the country on Friday, protesting 82-year-old Abdelaziz Bouteflika's candidacy for a fifth term as the country's president.

Bouteflika, who has not been seen since he checked into a Swiss hospital for "routine medical tests" on February 24, issued a warning to protestors, calling on them to be vigilant and cautious, "in case this peaceful expression is infiltrated by some insidious party ... which could cause chaos."

Algerian authorities detained 195 people during protests Friday, according to state television.

Warnings of civil war and terrorism

Bouteflika, who is rarely seen in public, has been confined to a wheelchair since suffering a stroke in 2013. In his message to protesters, he warned of a return to civil war -- which gripped the country in the 1990s -- as well as the "crises and tragedies caused by terrorism" across North Africa.

Despite being officially banned since 2001, demonstrations have been growing in size across the country for the past two weeks. Still, organizers have been extremely clear about the fact that their protests are peaceful, going so far as to organize first-aid stations and clean streets after protests end.

Friday's protests were the biggest the country has seen since citizens began taking to the streets in large numbers on February 22. State news agency APS reported that protesters were demanding "regime change" as demonstrations grew Friday afternoon.

As darkness fell Friday, the celebratory mood of the day's demonstrations shifted, as smaller groups of young men faced off with police, who fired tear gas to disperse them.

Meanwhile in Geneva

Away from the mass protests in Algeria, Swiss police confirmed they had arrested businessman and opposition activist Rachid Nekkaz for trespassing at the Geneva University Hospitals (HUG) where Bouteflika is being treated. Nekkaz, who sought to run against Bouteflika but has been barred due to the fact that he once possessed French citizenship, told onlookers outside the HUG, "40 million Algerians want to know where the president is."

Bouteflika, who has been Algeria's president since April 27, 1999, announced his intention to run for a fifth term on February 10. The country's Constitutional Council now has until March 13 to approve candidates for the April 18 election.

<i>js/sms (AFP, dpa)</i>

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