Middle East

Images of Bouteflika fail to reassure Algerian media

In this photo dated Wednesday, June 12, 2013 and released by the APS news agency (Algerian Press Service) on Thursday, June 13, 2013, Algeria's President Abdelaziz Bouteflika,receives Algerian Chief of Staff Ahmed Gaid Salah in a military hospital, in Paris, France. (AP Photo/APS)

ALGIERS: Publication of the first images of convalescing Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika in a Paris hospital has failed to reassure the country’s media, with many commenting Thursday on his weak health. “Bouteflika greatly weakened by the illness,” ran the headline of French-language daily El Watan.

Le Soir d’Algerie said the “images were not reassuring,” suggesting they had been “subjected to close attention by a special unit in the presidency.”

The first images to emerge of Bouteflika since he was hospitalized in April after a ministroke were released Wednesday, a day after they were taken.

A video broadcast on national television showed him in hospital, sitting in an armchair and drinking coffee, as he conferred with Prime Minister Abdel-Malek Sellal and army chief Ahmad Gaid Salah.

There was no sound to accompany the images.

The APS news agency also published photographs of Bouteflika wearing a black dressing gown as he received the two officials.

The images from the two-hour meeting were published to dispel rumors circulating in both Algiers and Paris about the 76-year-old president’s condition deteriorating.

Following Tuesday’s meeting, Sellal said Bouteflika had given detailed instructions on running the country, adding that he had “responded very well and his health seemed fine.”

Arabic-language Al-Khabar said “these images belie the rumors about his death but do not end questions about his ability to govern.”

And French-language daily Liberte said the images would “spread more rumors” instead of ending them.

Another French-language daily, L’Expression, asked “why there was no word or a phrase from the president to the people? Is he able to move about? How long will he be suffering from these effects?”

The Arabic daily An-Nahar had a headline saying, “A three-minute silence for those plotting against Bouteflika,” while government daily Al-Mujahid discussed the president’s instructions to Sellal.

Bouteflika’s health has been a source of speculation since 2005 when he had surgery at the same Paris hospital for a bleeding stomach ulcer and spent a long time convalescing.

The president’s absence has prompted local media to increasingly question the implications for Algeria’s government, given Bouteflika’s central constitutional role in running the country.

It has also sparked intense discussion about next year’s presidential election, now that it appears extremely unlikely Bouteflika will seek a fourth term.

Calls have grown in the press for the application of Article 88 of the constitution, which provides for the transfer of power if the head of state falls seriously ill.

Bouteflika rose to power in 1999. He was re-elected in 2004 and again in 2009, after changes to the constitution allowed him to run for more than two terms.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on June 14, 2013, on page 9.




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