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Thousands in Algeria call for poll boycott

Algerian opposition parties have rallied several thousand supporters to call for a boycott of next month’s election and to reject President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s run for another term after 15 years in power.

Bouteflika, the 77-year-old veteran of Algeria’s independence war, registered for the April 17 ballot despite suffering a stroke last year that opponents say has left him unfit to govern for another five years.

Chanting “Boycott” and “The people want the regime out,” around 5,000 people packed in an Algiers sports stadium where Islamist leaders and secular parties denounced Bouteflika’s bid and called for reforms to a political system they see as corrupt.

“The people here are the people who have been excluded, who have been put aside, but this is the real Algeria,” Mohsen Belabes, a leader with the Rally for Culture and Democracy party, told cheering crowds. “The regime will collapse, but Algeria will survive.”

But with the backing of the powerful ruling National Liberation Front, army factions and business elites, Bouteflika is almost assured victory, even though he has rarely spoken or been seen in public since his illness last year.

Friday’s rally was a rare opposition gathering in the North African oil producer, where critics say rival clans of FLN elites and army generals have dominated politics behind the scenes since 1962 independence from France.

But the opposition remains weak and divided in the country, where memories of a 1990s bloody conflict with armed Islamists remain painfully fresh, leaving many Algerians wary of instability and political upheaval.

At Friday’s rally, rival Islamist and secular party supporters heckled and chanted at each other across the stadium in a reminder of splits between the RCD and the MSP Islamist party, who have been adversaries for years before both calling for the election boycott.

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