Thousands of Algerians protest over absent president

ALGIERS, Algeria — Wrapped in Algerian flags, singing and tossing flowers, a festive crowd of thousands of protesters marched through central Algiers on Friday to protest President Abdelaziz Bouteflika's hold on power.

The protesters converged after prayers in a dense stream stretching nearly a kilometer, while onlookers threw flowers and confetti from flag-draped balconies. Security forces watched from the sidelines without intervening.

The protesters are challenging Bouteflika's fitness to run for a fifth term in next month's election. The Algerian leader has been in power since 1999 but has been all but absent from the public eye since a stroke in 2013. He has been hospitalized in Switzerland since last month for what the government describes as medical tests.

It's the third Friday running people have protested, and the demonstrations have continued into the week. Organizers have called for a general strike if the government doesn't cede.

More than a dozen political parties and unions have thrown their support behind the widening street protests.

At a meeting that ended late Thursday, 15 opposition parties and four unions praised the protest movement and criticized the government for its "stubborn power" in insisting upon the elections in April. Protesters are calling for a general strike if the government doesn't back down.

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