Over 1,000 Algerian judges have refused to oversee the country's election next month if President Abdelaziz Bouteflika stands as a candidate, in one of the biggest blows to the ailing leader since protests started three weeks ago.
In a statement, the judges in the coastal city of Bejajia added that they were forming a new association to ensure that in a future election, justice would prevail. Earlier today, the officials attended a rally holding banners reading "The judges are for the people and they govern in the people's name" and "The stability of the justice system is a national demand and must be achieved quickly".
Algerian judges in Bejaia joining the popular movement. More than 1000 judges have stated their refusal to oversee the elections if Bouteflika continues running next month, and announced a new association will be formed. #لا_للعهدة_الخامسة pic.twitter.com/ZLlyortliI
— Yasmina (@animsche) March 11, 2019
Bouteflika returned to the country yesterday after undergoing medical treatment in Switzerland. Protests have rocked the nation for the past three weeks, with demonstrators rejecting the 82-year-old president's announcement that he intends to stand for a fifth term.
The move by the judges also comes after the army's Chief of Staff appeared on state television, asserting that the people had a united vision of the future, suggesting support for the protests among the military for the first time.
Several prominent deputies have also resigned from Algeria's ruling National Liberation Front (FLN) in recent weeks and joined the rallies.
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Yesterday, hours before Bouteflika's return from Switzerland, his ruling party urged all sides to work together to end the crisis and promote national reconciliation.
Algeria's political sphere has been dominated by veterans of the country's independence war from France in 1962. Bouteflika has ruled the country since 1999, despite promising in 2012 to step down after his third term. The president is now wheelchair bound after suffering a stroke in 2013, and has not spoken publicly for the past five years. But last week he issued his first warning to protesters, saying the unrest could destabilise the country.
However cracks are appearing in what has been described as "the fortress" around the elderly ruling elite, with a growing number of Bouteflika's long-time supporters, including FLN members, joining the peaceful rallies urging him to step down.
"Bouteflika's system is over," said a commentator on Ennahar, which is close to the president's inner circle.
Protests have remained peaceful; although riot police have been deployed in growing numbers in recent days, the military has so far stayed in its barracks.