Algiers: Algeria’s President Abdul Aziz Bouteflika pledged on Sunday not to serve a full term if re-elected at April polls after huge protests against his bid to extend his 20 years in power.

The ailing leader vowed in an 11th-hour letter read out on state television to organise a “national conference” that would set a date for early polls which he would not contest.

The announcement came after hundreds of students staged new protests on Sunday in the Algerian capital and other cities against a fifth term ahead of a midnight deadline for candidates to register for the April 18 vote.

The latest demonstrations came after tens of thousands of people took to streets of the capital on Friday in the biggest challenge in years to Bouteflika’s rule.

The veteran leader uses a wheelchair and has rarely been seen in public since a 2013 stroke.

Chanting “Bouteflika go away”, the students rallied Sunday near the main city centre campus of the University of Algiers, cordoned off by police, AFP journalists said.

Hundreds more demonstrated at campuses across Algiers, including at the Faculty of Law near the headquarters of the Constitutional Council.

Police fired water cannon to prevent protesters from reaching the Council, where candidates must register for the presidential race, security sources said.

Rallies inside and outside campuses in the northeastern city of Annaba also drew hundreds chanting “anti-Bouteflika” slogans, a local journalist said on condition of anonymity.

The TSA news website reported other protests in Algeria’s second and third cities, Oran and Constantine.

Bouteflika’s announcement in February that he would seek another five-year term despite his failing health has unleashed pent-up frustrations in the North African country.

The 82-year-old flew to Switzerland on February 24 for what his office described as “routine medical checks”.

The presidency has not detailed when he will return from the Geneva hospital, which was calm when AFP visited on Sunday.