Algeria has blocked the internet days before its ailing president files to run for a fifth term

“No to a fifth term”
“No to a fifth term”
Image: AP Photo/Fateh Gudoum
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Internet disruption continues to spread across Algeria as public demonstrations calling on president Abdelaziz Bouteflika to vacate office intensify.

The internet monitoring organization NetBlocks said there was further evidence of growing cutoffs across the North African nation on Friday (Mar. 1) amid the biggest anti-government protests since the 2011 Arab Spring uprising. The targeted shutdown affected parts of the capital Algiers, the north-central city of Tizi Ouzou, along with the port city of Bejaia.

The current reports follow blockages that began in cities like Bordj Menaiel on Feb. 22, when thousands of Algerians took to the streets to oppose a new term for their ailing president.

“The disruptions are ongoing at the time of writing and are likely to significantly impact participants’ ability to share content from the demonstrations,” NetBlocks said in a statement.

The interruptions, some of which happened on the state network operator Algeria Telecom, they said, were meant to stop the flow of information and coverage of the protestors’ demands. “Some networks remain available, though in cases with slowed or throttled bandwidth, permitting an amount of information to leave protest areas.”

The internet cutoffs and the weeklong protests against Bouteflika come as the 82-year-old leader is expected to file formal papers for re-election on Monday (Mar. 3). In more than 30 cities, students, journalists, and opposition activists have called on him not to vie for a fifth term in the Apr. 18 presidential vote. Protestors on Friday chanted “the people reject Bouteflika and Said,” alluding to the president’s brother who is alleged to be in control and running the nation since 2015.

Bouteflika is credited with ending the nation’s civil war, with revenues from the oil boom enabling his government to reduce poverty and debt while investing in major infrastructural projects. But with declining oil prices, economic growth has decelerated with unemployment levels among under-30s hitting close to 30%.

Bouteflika’s health condition is also kindling discontent: the frail politician, who has been in power since 1999, has been confined to a wheelchair since suffering a stroke in 2013 and has not addressed the nation publicly for years. Last Sunday, amid increasing protests, he flew to Switzerland in what officials said was his routine medical check-up. Prime minister Ahmed Ouyahia has told parliament Bouteflika’s “medical results for the past five years were good.”

In response to the protests, authorities have arrested several journalists before releasing them, and are prosecuting at least 40 people for “disturbing public order,” according to Human Rights Watch.

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