Algiers. Thousands of students and public transport workers went on strike in Algeria Sunday against Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s bid for a fifth term, as the presidency confirmed the ailing leader had returned from Switzerland.
The plane carrying Bouteflika from Geneva -- where he has been in hospital for the past two weeks -- landed at Boufarik military base south of Algiers late afternoon, several Algerian media outlets said.
The Ennahar TV channel broadcast pictures of a convoy of black cars, preceded by motorbikes with flashing lights, speeding towards Algiers on a main road that was closed to other traffic.
The head of state’s return ahead of April 18 elections came as protest strikes shut down the capital’s public transport system and many schools across the country.
The 82-year-old president, who suffered a stroke in 2013, left Algeria on February 24 for what the presidency on Sunday once again described as “routine medical checks”.
Demonstrations against Bouteflika’s bid for a fifth term have attracted tens of thousands of people in Algiers and across the country for each of the last three Fridays, with smaller demonstrations taking place on other days.
Algeria’s army chief and deputy defence minister, Ahmed Gaid Salah, was silent on the upcoming elections Sunday but said the military and the people share “the same values and principles”.
Together they hold “a unique vision of the future of Algeria,” said Salah, considered to be within Bouteflika’s inner circle, in an address to students from military schools.
Following the breakout of protests, the army chief earlier this month pledged to guarantee Algeria’s security and criticised those he said want to return to the “painful years” of Algeria’s 1992-2002 civil war.
No trains, metros, trams or buses left or circulated within Algiers, employees of the companies running those networks told AFP on Sunday morning.
Around 1,000 highschool students gathered peacefully in central Algiers, while others marched in cities elsewhere.
Bouteflika has been in power since 1999 and his rare public appearances since his stroke have been in a wheelchair.
Most shops in the capital’s commercial centre were closed on Sunday, an AFP journalist said. (AFP)