Algiers – Thousands of demonstrators marched Friday in the Algerian capital against President Abdelaziz Bouteflica's battered election campaign for a fifth term, unaffected by tear gas volleys fired by the police during the tense demonstration.
Such anti-government protests are unusual in Algeria, where the question of Bouteflika's suitability for office has grown after a 2013 stroke that kept him largely hidden from the public.
Police helicopters circled overhead as hundreds gathered in the streets and parks of Algiers to attend mass Muslim prayer services to join the march. The demonstrators hoped that the April 18 presidential protests would send a loud signal of public discontent to the secretive leadership of the gas-rich North African country.
The boulevard leading to the president's headquarters was lined with riot police cars lined up along the route.
Soon after the crowds gathered, police fired tear gas at a group of a few hundreds from the Belcourt neighborhood on the city's Mediterranean coast. It was unclear what triggered the tear gas.
But later, thousands marched through Algiers.
Demonstrations were also planned in other Algerian regions, organized via social networks.
The protest organizers urged the demonstrators to remain calm and to stand two meters away from the police, bring families and clean up after the march.
It is the last of several protests in recent days against the candidacy of Bouteflika for the election on 18 April.
The masses on Friday were not just angered at Bouteflika, but at those who had kept him and himself in power for such a long time, despite his difficulties in moving and speaking. They feel that Algerian leadership has neglected unemployment, corruption and poverty and ignored the concerns of the public.
They have not expressed support for a single challenger in the election, although opposition candidate Ali Benflis had expressed support on Friday calling Bouteflika's presidential candidate "humiliation for the Algerian people".
Bouteflika himself, who is 81, is undergoing medical examination in Switzerland.
It is thanks to Bouteflika that the Algerians were reconciled after a decade of civil war between Islamic insurgents and security forces, which killed 200,000 people. He has been in power since 1999 and won reelection in 2014 by an overwhelming majority. Most Algerians are likely to vote for him again next month for fear of instability that could be triggered by his withdrawal.