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Thousands join Algeria protests in Paris and other French cities

Bertrand Guay, AFP | A protester waves an Algerian flag at a rally in Paris on March 10, 2019.

Thousands of people rallied in Paris and other cities around France on Sunday in the latest protests against Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s decision to run for a fifth term in office.

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Several thousand people, many of them of Algerian origin, gathered for the second weekend in a row at the République square in central Paris, while there were other demonstrations in cities including Marseille and Bordeaux.

"We need to get rid of the system," said 24-year-old protester Ahmed Eddaidj, who was wrapped in an Algerian flag.

The student, who has been in France for four years, added: "I'd like to go back to Algeria, but there's no work. We're looking for a better life."

Police said some 10,000 rallied in Paris alone, with another 6,000 marching in the southern city of Marseille, home to a large Algerian community.

Bouteflika, in power since 1999, has rarely been seen in public since suffering a stroke in 2013.

His bid to secure a fifth term in Algeria's April 18 election has sparked massive protests in the country, dominated by youths who have called for the president to stand aside.

Sunday’s protests came as Bouteflika made a secretive return to Algeria after receiving treatment at a Swiss hospital for two weeks, according to the Algerian presidency.

Rachid Nekkaz – a businessman and political activist opposed to Bouteflika – was among those attending the Paris protest after he was released by Swiss police.

Nekkaz, who was arrested on Friday at the Geneva hospital where Bouteflika was treated, was carried briefly on the shoulders of a group of demonstrators.

Macron urged to take a stand

France, which ruled Algeria for more than 100 years as a colonial power, is home to the largest population of Algerian-origin people outside of the north African country.

Around 1.7 million people of Algerian origin are estimated to live in France, according to national statistics agency INSEE.

Some members of the diaspora want French President Emmanuel Macron to take a firmer stand in support of the peaceful protests against Bouteflika's bid for a fifth term.

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

But the Paris government is wary about being seen to interfere in its former territory and has been extremely cautious in its statements.

Opposition figure Ali Benflis, a former prime minister of Bouteflika who has called for him to step aside after 20 years in power, urged France to stay out of the crisis.

"France is a major power that we respect as an associate and a partner, but Algeria's problems cannot be resolved from the outside and no-one should interfere," he told French daily the Journal du Dimanche newspaper in an interview.

One of Macron's close political allies, François Bayrou, called the peaceful demonstrations an "Algerian Spring" on Sunday and said it was "in many ways exemplary and essential".

But "it's not because these movements begin well that they end well", he told French media, adding that Islamist parties could try to benefit from the instability.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

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