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Presidential campaign kicks off in Algeria

"It is my duty to respond positively, because never in my life have I shied away from the call of duty"

Source : IINA / 24 Mar 2014

Campaigning for Algeria's April 17 presidential election has begun as criticism mounts of a bid by incumbent Abdelaziz Bouteflika to clinch a fourth term despite concerns over his health.

The president rejected such concerns in a message to the nation on Saturday, insisting he was fit to govern and had decided to run in answer to persistent calls from Algerians. "It is my duty to respond positively, because never in my life have I shied away from the call of duty," Bouteflika said.

"The difficulties linked to my health do not appear to disqualify me in your eyes or plead in favor of me giving up the heavy responsibilities which have, in part, affected my health," APS news agency quoted him as saying

Bouteflika, who is widely expected to win, will square off against five other presidential hopefuls, including one woman, Louisa Hanoune, and key challenger Ali Benflis. Former prime minister Abdelmalek Sellal, who quit to become Bouteflika's campaign manager, said earlier this month that the president needed not be on the road and would be represented by his aides. Sellal was closely involved in the 2004 and 2009 campaigns that returned the president to power, and he himself has travelled across Algeria in past months to play up Bouteflika's track record.

That record has come under heavy criticism in Algeria, where politicians and civil society groups have expressed opposition to Bouteflika's re-election. The opposition says his rule has been dogged by corruption, while protests and calls for the fall of the government have multiplied. Former president Liamine Zeroual has joined the chorus of dissent and slammed the 2008 amended constitution that allowed Bouteflika to win a third term.

In remarks published by the press, Zeroual said he had a "moral obligation" to speak out and demanded "a handover of power". On Friday, thousands attended a meeting convened to urge a boycott of the vote, and dozens of people demonstrated the next day to call for the fall of the government. Anger has mounted since Bouteflika, frail looking and his voice barely audible, was seen on state television on March 3 formally announcing that he was seeking a fourth term.

It was the first time he had spoken in public in two years. Since returning home from hospital in Paris, the president has chaired just two cabinet meetings and only rarely appeared in public.


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