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Algerian president returns home amid protests



Algeria’s ailing President Abdelaziz Bouteflika has returned to the country after two weeks in a Swiss hospital, state media say.

A plane carrying the
82-year-old leader landed at Boufarik military airport near the capital,
Algiers, as protests against his 20-year rule continue.

Teachers and students have
gone on strike at several universities, with thousands joining demonstrations.

They are against the
president’s plan to seek a fifth term in office.

Mr Bouteflika has said
that the mass demonstrations, which broke out last month and represent the
biggest threat so far to his rule, could plunge the country into
“chaos”.

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On Sunday, thousands of
students took to the streets of Algiers, waving the Algerian flag and chanting:
“Bouteflika, there will be no fifth term.”

Many shops in the city
have been closed, and Reuters reports that train services have been suspended.

Last Friday, tens of
thousands of people joined protests thought to be the biggest in the capital in
28 years.

Riot police fired tear gas
to prevent the mostly peaceful groups from reaching a road leading to the
presidential palace, and local reports said 195 people were detained by the
security forces.

Many who demonstrated that
day initially gathered at university sites before heading onto the streets.

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Algeria reportedly has
more than 1.7 million students. More than a third of these live on campus, but
many others travel long distances to study from family homes.

Meanwhile, the Algerian
presidency confirmed Mr Bouteflika, who has rarely been seen in public since
having a stroke in 2013, had returned after two weeks of “periodic medical
checks” in Switzerland, state media APS reported.

Privately-owned Ennahar TV
reported that the plane had landed at Boufarik military airport but did not
broadcast any footage of the flight.

Instead, it carried a live
flight tracker map which showed the plane approaching Blida Province, where the
airport is based.

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The plane that was
photographed in Geneva’s Cointrin airport earlier on Sunday is thought to be
the same one that flew him over on 24 February.

Mr Bouteflika’s office
previously insisted that he was just going to Geneva for routine health
check-ups, but it led to speculation that his condition was far more serious.

The wave of protests was triggered by the announcement last month that Mr Bouteflika would seek a fifth term in office in April’s election. –BBC

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