GENEVA (AP) — An Algerian government plane believed to be carrying President Abdelaziz Bouteflika took off from Geneva on Sunday to bring him back home as major demonstrations against his rule have gripped Algeria.
The 82-year-old Bouteflika spent two weeks at a Swiss hospital where he went for medical treatment. Bouteflika suffered a stroke in 2013 and he is seeking a fifth term in an April election, a move that has angered many Algerians.
In a third week of protests on Friday, hundreds of thousands of people flooded the streets of Algiers calling for change in the biggest demonstration yet against Bouteflika.
The plane, which had been hidden away from view in a hangar, taxied onto the runway at Geneva airport as a rainbow came into view.
It wasn’t immediately clear whether the aircraft would land in Algiers or Boufarik military airport about 30 kilometers (20 miles) south of the capital. Bouteflika resides in Zeralda outside Algiers, not in the presidential palace in the city.
About an hour before the plane took off, a convoy escorted by police arrived at Geneva airport. An AP reporter spotted the arrival of the convoy of four black limousines, two black mini-vans and a police escort at the airport, though the plane and Bouteflika remained out of view.
Algerian officials had said days ago that Bouteflika was expected to return shortly.
Meanwhile, the top Algerian party backing the beleaguered chief of state broke its silence Sunday over massive demonstrations demanding the end of the regime, saying it’s ready to work with all parties to end the crisis.
The National Liberation Front, or FLN, 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 in April 18 elections. He has been in office two decades. The protest movement also wants a change in the much-decried system that has kept him there and has a strangle-hold on the power structure.