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The 82-year-old, whose bid to seek a fifth term sparked widespread demonstrations, was in Geneva for medical treatment.

Amid the biggest threat to his 20-year rule, Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika arrived at an airbase southwest of the capital, Algiers, according to state media.

His aircraft on Sunday flew into the Boufarik military airport from the Swiss city of Geneva, where the 82-year-old leader - whose bid to seek a fifth term has been meet with unprecedented protests - had a two-week medical trip, Ennahar television said.

State TV carried a statement from the presidency saying he had returned to Algeria after routine medical checks. Images later showed a convoy departing the airport.

The president, who is confined to a wheelchair, has rarely been seen in public since suffering a stroke in 2013, prompting critics to question whether he is being used as a puppet candidate by a faction of civilian and military figures.

Massive protests began on February 22 to denounce Bouteflika's plans to extend his rule in the April 18 polls.

Bouteflika has offered to limit his term after the election and has vowed to change the "system" that runs the country. The promises, however, have failed to quell public anger, galvanising discontent among different sectors, particularly students and other young people.

Some long-time allies of Bouteflika, including members of the ruling FLN party, have expressed support for the protesters, revealing cracks within a ruling elite long seen as invincible.

In the clearest indication yet that the generals sympathise with protesters, the chief of staff said the military and the people had a united vision of the future, state TV reported. Lieutenant General Gaed Salah did not mention the unrest.

"Bouteflika's system is over," said a commentator on Ennahar, which is close to the president's inner circle.

Students have been at the heart of the protests and more rallies took place on Sunday in Algiers, where thousands of flag-waving supporters poured onto the streets shouting slogans such as: "Bouteflika, there will be no fifth term."

Many shops in the capital were shut and residents said train services had been suspended.

"We have taken to the streets today to protest a fifth presidential term. We are against a fifth term. This is enough," protester Zakaria told Reuters news agency in front of the Central Postal Office.

Added Salim, a high school student among thousands of people demonstrating on Sunday: "We want Bouteflika and all his mafia to leave. They have to leave this country."

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Abdelaziz Bouteflika Algeria protests
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