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Algeria's Bouteflika warns protesters against causing 'chaos' ahead of mass rally

Protesters are calling for Algeria's ailing president, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, to renounce plans to run for fifth term
About 1,000 lawyers protested against Bouteflika's re-election bid on Thursday in Algiers (AFP)

Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika warned protesters against attempts to sow discord and create "chaos", on the eve of a mass rally in the capital Algiers denouncing his bid for a fifth term.

In a written statement delivered by a minister on his behalf and shared by the state-run Algeria Press Service (APS) on Thursday, the ailing Bouteflika saluted the demonstrators, especially young people, for taking to the streets "to peacefully express their opinions".

But he quickly issued a warning, saying the protesters should be wary of "inside and outside" forces looking to cause trouble.

"We must call for vigilance and caution when it comes to the eventual infiltration of this peaceful expression by insidious parties, internal or external, that could ... provoke chaos," Bouteflika said in the statement, which was issued on the occasion of International Women's Day on Friday.

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The aging president's decision to run for a fifth term has been met with widespread anger and frustration.

For the past two weeks, Algerians have taken to the streets across the country to oppose Bouteflika's re-election bid, calling for him to step down after two decades in power.

A large rally, dubbed the "March of 20 Million", is expected to take place in Algiers on Friday, after organisers launched a call on social media.

While opposition to Bouteflika's campaign for a fifth term has been the driving force behind the ongoing protests, Algerians have also voiced frustrations over economic inequality, a lack of job opportunities and other longstanding issues plaguing the country.

In his statement, Bouteflika acknowledged that Algeria is facing "numerous economic, social and political challenges".

He also made reference to the country's bloody war for independence from France, saying that it is up to Algerians "to ensure Algeria's preservation".

Lawyers rally against Bouteflika

Still, the movement opposed to Bouteflika's fifth term appears to be gaining support.

On Thursday, about 1,000 lawyers marched in Algiers to the Constitutional Council, the body responsible for approving candidates set to run for president in April, AFP reported.

They said Bouteflika should be disqualified because of his ill health. The 82-year-old president suffered a stroke in 2013 and has rarely been seen in public since then.

'We are asking the Constitutional Council to assume its responsibilities. This candidacy is inadmissible'

- Ahmed Dahim, member of the Bar Association of Algiers

"We are asking the Constitutional Council to assume its responsibilities," protester Ahmed Dahim, a member of the Bar Association of Algiers, told AFP during the rally.

"This candidacy is inadmissible," Dahim said.

Bouteflika's camp has sought to dispel concerns around the president's health, especially in light of the recent protests.

Bouteflika's campaign manager, Abdelghani Zaalane, told AFP the president's health raised "no worries".

He said the medical examinations Bouteflika has been undergoing in Switzerland were nearly completed, the news agency said.

Still, major groups across Algeria have added their voices to the call for Bouteflika to step down.

Earlier this week, two major branches of Algeria’s largest labour union, whose leader is close to Bouteflika, came out against the president’s candidacy for a fifth term.

"The members do not want a system that is linked to oligarchs," the Rouiba and Reghaia branches of the UGTA, which counts tens of thousands of members, said in a statement on Wednesday.

Dozens of journalists from private and public media outlets also gathered on Thursday for a second straight week at Press Freedom Square, AFP reported. They say pressure has been exerted on them over their coverage of the demonstrations.

Last week, Algerian police arrested and later released several journalists who had been detained in Algiers for protesting against alleged censorship of their coverage of the protests.