Algerian lawyers protesting Monday against President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s bid for a fifth term in office © AFP
, Algiers, Algeria, Mar 11 – Barristers across Algeria on Monday joined strike action against President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s bid for a fifth term in office, a day after the ailing leader’s return from hospital in Switzerland.
The lawyers launched a 48-hour walkout to demand the Constitutional Council reject Bouteflika’s re-election bid on the grounds of “incapacity” to carry out the role.
The council has until Thursday to rule on candidates for Algeria’s April 18 election.
Magistrates have also been called to strike, although Justice Minister Tayeb Louh has stressed they were duty-bound to remain neutral.
“The judiciary must keep its distance from political tensions,” he said.
Former colonial power France on Monday hailed the “dignity and restraint” of the mass demonstrations across Algeria.
“It’s up to the Algerian people… to choose their leaders and their future,” said French government spokesman Benjamin Griveaux.
Bouteflika’s return from Geneva — where he spent the past two weeks in hospital — came as protest strikes Sunday shut down the capital’s public transport system and many schools across Algeria.
Algerians demonstrate in the capital Algiers against ailing president’s bid for a fifth term on March 8, 2019 © AFP/File / RYAD KRAMDI
The 82-year-old president, who suffered a stroke in 2013, left Algeria on February 24 for what the presidency described as “routine medical checks”.
Demonstrations against Bouteflika’s bid for another term have brought tens of thousands of protesters onto Algeria’s streets for each of the last three Fridays, with smaller demonstrations taking place on other days.
– Security vow –
Bouteflika, who has been in power since 1999 but whose rare public appearances since his stroke have been in a wheelchair, has made no public comment since his return to the country.
President Abdelaziz Bouteflika flew back to Algeria from Switzerland on Sunday after two weeks in hospital © AFP / Fabrice COFFRINI
After the breakout of protests last month, Algeria’s army chief, Ahmed Gaid Salah, has pledged to guarantee national security and criticised those he said want to return to the “painful years” of the civil war of the 1990s.
With the country partially slowed down by strike action, Culture Minister Azzedine Mihoubi announced Monday that police have recovered all the antiquities stolen from the country’s oldest museum during last Friday’s mass protests in Algiers.
The objects were swords and pistols dating back to the early 19th century, he told the government daily El Moudjahid.
Set ablaze by looters, a wing of the National Museum of Antiquities and Islamic Arts used for offices has been closed for renovation work, he said.
The minister did not specify if arrests had been made or how the items were recovered.
The culture ministry has called the looting of the museum “a crime against a historical heritage that covers several important stages of Algerian popular history”.
Algerians look down at idle trains during a general strike in the capital Algiers © AFP / RYAD KRAMDI
A previous attempt had been made on March 1 to enter the site, located at a major crossroads close to the presidential palace, during a previous protest.
The junction was the scene of clashes Friday between young protesters and police, while demonstrations elsewhere in the city passed off in relative calm.
Founded during the French occupation of Algeria, from 1830 to 1962, the museum is one of the oldest in Africa and covers over 2,500 years of history and art.