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Algeria's Bouteflika returns home amid wave of protests

Zohra Bensemra, REUTERS | Students protest against Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika's fifth-term bid in Algiers on March 10, 2019.

Algeria’s President Abdelaziz Bouteflika returned home on Sunday after receving medical treatment in a Swiss hospital, the Algerian presidency has confirmed, amid protests against the ailing president's bid for a fifth term in office.

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Bouteflika landed at a military airport south of the capital and quickly departed in a convoy after spending two weeks in a Swiss hospital.

The arrival of the 82-year-old Bouteflika comes amid massive demonstrations demanding he withdraw his candidacy for a fifth term as president of the North African country.

Bouteflika suffered a stroke in 2013 and has rarely been seen in public since. The decision to run for a new term in the April 18 election angered large swathes of Algerian society.

Thousands join Algeria protests in Paris

Bouteflika arrived at Boufarik military airport about 30 kilometres (20 miles) south of the capital, and was shown in video by private television station Ennahar in a convoy heading towards Algiers. He could be seen inside a car slightly bent over and with a cap on his head.

Bouteflika resides in the Algiers suburb of Zeralda, not in the presidential palace in the capital.

The official APS news agency confirmed that the president had returned home "after a private visit to Geneva ... during which he underwent periodic medical tests".

General strike

The power structure has been shaken by the size of the unprecedented citizens' revolt, which has drawn millions into the streets of cities across the country to say no to a fifth term.

A general strike Sunday was taking place as the president arrived, with numerous shops in Algiers and other cities closed.

'Bouteflika's return further complicates matters'

As if to lay the groundwork for change, the top Algerian party backing the beleaguered head of state broke its silence Sunday over massive demonstrations demanding the end of the regime, saying it is ready to work with all parties to end the crisis.

The National Liberation Front, or FLN, said in a statement that it wants to find a way out of the crisis "with the least cost to the country".

Army Chief of Staff Ahmed Gaid Salah added his voice, saying Sunday that the army and the people "have the same vision of the future".

Protests spread to France

Peaceful nationwide protests began on February 22 in protest at Bouteflika's plan to run for a fifth term in April 18 elections. The protest movement also wants a change in the much-decried system that has kept him there and has a stranglehold on the power structure.

Bouteflika, first elected in 1999, is the first civilian president of Algeria, except for a short term when the country won its independence from France in 1962. A coterie of people have grown rich under him and are thought to exert pressure on the presidency.

In a third week of protests on Friday, hundreds of thousands of people flooded the streets of Algiers calling for change in the biggest demonstration yet against Bouteflika. Similar marches were held across the country.

The protests have spread to France, where thousands of people, many of them of Algerian origin, rallied in several cities on Sunday to join in the calls for Bouteflika to give up his bid for a fifth term in office.

Algeria protesters 'want to get rid of the whole system'

(FRANCE 24 with AP)

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