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story.lead_photo.caption Algerian high school students march Sunday during a protest in the capital, Algiers.

ALGIERS, Algeria -- Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika landed at a military airport south of the capital Sunday, returning to a country in which millions of people are demanding he withdraw his candidacy for a fifth five-year term.

Bouteflika, 82, suffered a stroke in 2013 and has rarely been seen in public since. He had spent the past two weeks in a Swiss hospital.

His decision to run for a new term in the April 18 election angered large portions of Algerian society.

Bouteflika arrived at Boufarik military airport, about 20 miles south of the capital, and was shown in video by private television station Ennahar in a fast-moving convoy heading toward the Algiers suburb of Zeralda. He could be seen inside a car slightly bent over and with a cap on his head.

Bouteflika resides in Zeralda, not in the presidential palace in the capital. Earlier, Bouteflika had departed from a Geneva airport.

The official APS news agency confirmed that the president had returned home "after a private visit to Geneva ... during which he underwent periodic medical tests."

The power structure has been shaken by the size of the unprecedented citizens' revolt, which has drawn millions into the streets of cities across the country to say no to a fifth term -- and to a system blamed for corruption and keeping Bouteflika in office despite his ailments.

A general strike Sunday was taking place as the president arrived, with numerous shops in Algiers and other cities closed.

The top Algerian party backing the beleaguered chief of state broke its silence Sunday over the demonstrations demanding the end of the regime, saying it's ready to work with all parties to end the crisis.

The National Liberation Front said in a statement that it wants to find a way out of the crisis "with the least cost to the country."

Army Chief of Staff Ahmed Gaid Salah added his voice, saying Sunday that the army and the people "have the same vision of the future."

Peaceful nationwide protests began Feb. 22 to protest Bouteflika's plan to run for a fifth term. The protest movement also wants a change in the system that has kept him there and has a stranglehold on the power structure.

Bouteflika, first elected in 1999, is the first civilian president of the North African nation except for a short term when Algeria won its independence from France in 1962. The nation has the largest proven natural gas reserves in Africa, and the people who have grown rich under Bouteflika's rule are thought to exert pressure on the presidency.

Information for this article was contributed by Jamey Keaten and Elaine Ganley of The Associated Press.

A Section on 03/11/2019

Print Headline: Ailing leader returns to face Algerian crisis


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