A file picture of, Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika (AP Photo/Sidali Djarboub, File)
Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika returned to Algeria yesterday after two weeks in a Swiss hospital as he faces mass protests that pose the biggest threat to his 20-year rule.

In the clearest indication yet that the generals sympathise with tens of thousands of Algerians who want Bouteflika, 82, to step down, the chief of staff said the military and the people had a united vision of the future, state TV reported.

An Algerian government plane landed at Geneva’s Cointrin airport earlier yesterday. The Gulfstream executive jet, the one which had taken Bouteflika to Geneva late last month, touched down at the airport amid a heavy police presence.

The ailing president has rarely been seen in public since suffering a stroke in 2013. A heavy security deployment was reported between Algiers airport and the presidential residence in Zeralda, outside the capital, al-Arabiya Hadath TV said yesterday.

“Bouteflika is welcome if he comes back but we do not need him at the presidency,” said Aziz, a 17-year-old student.

Algerians of all social classes have protested over the past three weeks against Bouteflika's decision to stand in next month's election.

The ruling FLN party urged all sides to work together to end the political crisis, Ennahar TV said. It wants national reconciliation and to preserve security and stability, the station said.

But there are no signs Algerians are prepared to heed that call after rejecting Bouteflika’s offer to limit his term after the election.

Yesterday, thousands took to the streets of the capital carrying the Algerian flag and chanting: “Bouteflika, there will be no fifth term”. Many shops in Algiers were closed and residents say train services had been suspended.

Young Algerians are desperate for jobs and angry at unemployment, corruption and an elderly elite.

“The current system is unable to provide jobs,” said Farid Kahil, 27, who is unemployed.

Bouteflika managed to remain in power as the “Arab Spring” uprising toppled autocrats in neighbouring countries in 2011 because Algeria had enough foreign reserves to boost state spending.

Older Algerians haunted by the civil war in the 1990s tolerated crackdowns on dissent in exchange for stability, giving the government some breathing space. Now some have appeared at demonstrations to demand reforms.

“We need a new generation to govern us and secure a better future for our children,” said pensioner Ahmed, 63.

Even if Bouteflika’s position becomes untenable, it is not clear who could replace him. Algeria has stagnated for decades under veterans of the independence war who dominate the country.

For years, rumours have swirled about potential successors, but no one credible has emerged who has the backing of the army and elite and is not in their 70s or 80s.

Algeria’s chief of staff has warned that chaos would not be tolerated. The military has stayed in barracks.

Several public figures, including members of Bouteflika's FLN party and lawmakers have resigned to join the rallies against a political system dominated by war veterans since independence from France in 1962.

Two branches of the powerful Algerian labour union UGTA, representing tens of thousands of workers, have opposed the re-election plan and lawyers have also joined rallies. Reuters