Middle East

Algeria's first president 'in good health': daughter

Algeria's first president Ahmed Ben Bella. (AP)

ALGIERS:  Algeria's elderly first president Ahmed Ben Bella left hospital in good health Thursday after undergoing medical tests, his daughter said after some reports that the former independence fighter had died.

"He left hospital today and is at home and in good health, considering he is 95," Mehdia Ben Bella told AFP, dismissing the reports about her father's demise as "scandalous".

"He is not in a coma and he is out of danger," she said. "My father went into hospital 48 hours ago medical checks, but there was no need to start all these rumours."

Ben Bella became the first president of Algeria after its independence in 1962 and is one of the north African country's last surviving heroes of the war against French colonial rule.

In its early online edition Thursday, El Watan newspaper said Ben Bella had died, before updating the story to say there was utter confusion over his condition.

"This morning, one of his nephews... confirmed the death of the former president, telling our correspondent 'He is clinically dead,'" the newspaper wrote.

But Algerian news agency APS and public radio said Ben Bella, who returned to Algiers on Monday after being hospitalised in Paris for "respiratory complications", was in stable condition at a military hospital.

"News of his death is false," APS said. "Ben Bella is still alive and under medical observation at the hospital after having been taken there overnight."

According to his biographer, Mohammed Benelhadj, Ben Bella has suffered "memory losses," and his mental state "deteriorated significantly" after his wife Zohra died from lung cancer in April 2008 at the age of 70.

Ben Bella was overthrown as president in 1965 by defence minister Houari Boumediene, who enjoyed the support of current President Abdelaziz Bouteflika.

But his biographer said he had been "very close" to the president since they reconciled in 1999.

Ben Bella has also chaired since 2007 an African Union panel charged with the prevention and management of conflicts in Africa.

Ben Bella became the first president of independent Algeria in 1962 but was overthrown in 1965. He spent a total of 24 years as a prisoner of both the French colonial regime and its nationalist successors.

The leftist leader became a leading figure of the Non-Aligned Movement -- alongside Cuba's Fidel Castro, India's Jawaharlal Nehru and Egypt's Gamal Abdel Nasser -- and a vocal advocate of pan-Arabism.

He spent several years in exile in Switzerland but returned to Algeria in 1990 and still lives there.





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