Ballot box will decide Bouteflika's fate, Algeria's prime minister tells protesters
Algeria's prime minister on Monday said voters at the ballot box would determine if ailing President Abdelaziz Bouteflika stays on for a fifth term in office, as protests against the leader intensify.
Tens of thousands took to the streets on Friday - including in Algiers where demonstrations are strictly banned - to protest Bouteflika's decision to stand for election in April to extend his two-decade long reign.
In a first for the north-African country, Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia stated Algerians had a constitutional right to peaceful protest. He retracted his previous threats to suppress any demonstrations against President Bouteflika.
Presidential polls "will take place in less than two months, and everyone will make their choice freely", Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia said in televised comments that were the first official reaction to the protests.
"Everyone has the right to support their candidate and be against any other candidate, the ballot box will decide in a peaceful and civilised way".
Bouteflika, who uses a wheelchair and has rarely been seen in public since he suffered a stroke in 2013, announced on 10 February that he will run for another term in office in the upcoming 18 April election.
"Thank God the rallies were peaceful, but I urge vigilance" as "calls to demonstrate were from an unknown source", Ouyahia said.
The prime minister said Bouteflika promised to hold a national "conference, unprecedented in the history of Algeria" if he is re-elected, where "everything" can be discussed.
In a joint statement on Monday, Algerian writers, filmmakers, poets and critics lambasted Bouteflika and called for the formation of a new government "for all Algerians".
A follow-up call for protests by a small opposition group drew hundreds in central Algiers Sunday, but they were met by a heavy police presence and tear gas.
Ouyahia is known for his hard-line stance on demonstrations. In mid-December, he called on governors to use gendarmerie and police to suppress protests in streets and public squares.
Bouteflika has had a long battle with illness and has frequently flown to France for treatment, most recently traveling to Switzerland last week for "routine medical checks".
He is Algeria's longest-serving president and a veteran of its independence struggle who has clung to power since 1999 despite his ill health.
Bouteflika is viewed as a favourite of the country's military and security apparatus, following a bloody civil war in the 1990s.
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