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Mass protests lead Algeria to change school holidays

Security forces intervene Algerian university students as they protest against candidacy of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika for a fifth term in Algiers, Algeria on 26 February 2019. [Farouk Batiche - Anadolu Agency]
Security forces intervene Algerian university students as they protest against candidacy of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika for a fifth term in Algiers, Algeria on 26 February 2019. [Farouk Batiche - Anadolu Agency]

The Algerian Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research announced that the date of the spring holiday is advanced to this Sunday, in a move that triggered heated debate and accusations of "trying to break the popular uprising" of the Algerian people against President Bouteflika's candidacy for a fifth term.

The Ministry announced the decision on Saturday in a communiqué which the Anadolu Agency managed to obtain.

According to the ministry's decision, "the spring break for the academic year 2018/2019 is scheduled to start from Sunday, 10 March 2019, till 4 April 2019."

The decision included students only, without applying to the administrative staff and technicians, as well as other members of the universities' staff.

The ministry also postponed the summer vacation, scheduled for 4 July, by a week to be rescheduled on 11 July. Furthermore, in September 2018, the Ministry set the spring break's date from 21 March to 5 April.

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It is considered as an unprecedented in the history of the Algerian higher education that the date of spring holiday is extended to 24 days instead of 15, which is a regulation put into action since the country's independence in 1962.

Soon after the decision was issued, social media users have expressed their rage against the new regulations, amid accusations that such actions were "aimed to break the popular uprising" of the Algerian people against the nomination of President Bouteflika for a fifth term, utilising the strategy of emptying universities during this period of unrest.

Facebook users have circulated that "the Algerian authorities, and without being aware of it, have enabled students to devote their time to protest against the nomination of President Bouteflika."

"They were terrified to the point of deciding to reschedule the spring break two weeks earlier, although the re-evaluation exam sessions are due", wrote Ahmed Azimi, a professor of political science at the University of Algiers, on Facebook.

Algerian journalist, Nadjib Belhimer, stated: "The ministry fixed an earlier date for the spring break to empty the universities and put down the intensity of the protests. The ruling party is confused and floundering."

However, others considered that the ministry wanted university students to be at their homes during the announcement of the list of candidates for the presidency by the Constitutional Council on 13 March, so that they would not be able to take part in demonstrations at universities.

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It is expected that the Constitutional Council (the Court) will reveal, on 13 March, the files of accepted candidates to run the presidential race.

Algeria has over 1.3 million university students and one university at least in each of its 48 governorates.

Since the announcement of Bouteflika's candidacy for a fifth term, on 10 February, the Algerian universities witnessed protests and demonstrations rejecting his candidacy.

On 3 March, Bouteflika pledged, in a letter addressed to the Algerian people, to hold early elections without running, if he won the presidential race scheduled for 18 April.

Bouteflika has authorised his campaign manager, Abdelghani Zaalane, to submit his candidacy to the Constitutional Council.

On Friday, the Algerians went out in mass rallies, allegedly by millions, in all provinces, expressing their refusal of Bouteflika's candidacy.

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