Algerian opposition leader Rachid Nekkaz was arrested Friday inside the Swiss hospital where the country’s ailing President, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, is reportedly being treated, according to Agence France-Presse (AFP).
Nekkaz, who has unsuccessfully run against 82-year-old Bouteflika previously, was taken into custody at the University Hospitals of Geneva, Swiss police spokeswoman Joanna Matta told AFP. He had been spotted outside the medical facility earlier in the day.
Bouteflika, who has ruled the country for two decades, suffered a stroke in 2013 and has rarely appeared in public since. His decision to run for a fifth term in the presidential elections next month has triggered massive demonstrations in Algeria over the last three weeks.
As another election looms, popular disillusionment has spiraled over the undemocratic rule of le pouvoir, or the power, as the establishment clique propping up Bouteflika is known.
In a message to mark International Women’s Day on Friday, the President acknowledged the demonstrations, commending their peaceful nature and the “maturity of our citizens, notably youth.”
He also warned Algerians over “possible infiltration of misleading parties” who may seek to “provoke chaos,” according to a statement carried by the Algeria Press Service.
Algerians resumed protesting Friday, with thousands gathering in the capital of Algiers chanting “No fifth term for Bouteflika,” “Bring the army or the police, we don’t care,” and “You destroyed the country, you bunch of thieves.”
Organizers and activists estimated that up to 2 million people could hit the streets of the capital for the protests Friday.
Trains and metro services in Algiers were halted earlier in the day, in an apparent attempt to prevent large numbers from gathering.
As the crowds grew larger, CNN did not see the police force attempt to block the massive crowds in any way.
With high levels of unemployment and the country suffering a debilitating financial crisis as a result of a collapse in oil revenues, protests are fairly common in Algeria. However, experts argue, these demonstrations are different.
Dalia Ghanem, an Algerian resident scholar at the Carnegie Middle East Center says the protests are about people “getting back their dignity.”
She argues that while they may have started as student-led demonstrations, the protests now encompass a broad cross section of the population.
“I’ve seen people from different generations and from different socio-economic backgrounds. Students were there, lawyers were there, doctors were there, the unemployed were there. This was really the scream of the people,” Ghanem said.