Uncertainty was growing in Algeria on Monday over President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s health, 10 days after he was hospitalised in France after suffering a mini-stroke and in the absence of official comment.
Rachid Bougherbal, his doctor in Algeria before he was transferred to Paris, referred questions about Bouteflika’s condition to the prime minister’s office when contacted, with the latter declining to provide an update.
“The paralysed state,” ran the headline of an article in the independent Algerian daily El Watan on the “total blackout (which) surrounds the evolution of Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s health.”
The newspaper lamented that “after the terse statements about his hospitalisation, followed by others reassuring about the state of his health, the political authorities suddenly decided to lock down communication channels.”
Bouteflika was admitted to the Val-de-Grace military hospital in Paris on April 27, after suffering a “transient ischaemia,” or mini-stroke, official sources said, sparking intense speculation that his 14-year rule might be drawing to a close.
El Watan said the president’s return to Algeria had been “adjourned,” following a statement by his doctor on April 29 that Bouteflika would return to Algeria in “not more than seven days.”
Last Tuesday, Bouteflika addressed Algerians for the first time since arriving in Paris, congratulating workers on the eve of the Labour Day holiday, in a message carried by national media, and insisting he was on the road to recovery.
The ageing president’s health has been an endless source of speculation in Algeria since 2005 when he had surgery at the same Paris hospital for a bleeding stomach ulcer and spent a long period convalescing.
A leaked US diplomatic cable in 2007 suggested he might be suffering from terminal stomach cancer, and since being re-elected for a third term in 2009 he has rarely appeared in public or travelled outside the capital.
Algerian politics is typically shrouded in secrecy, and some commentators have speculated that Bouteflika could even run for a fourth term in the presidential election next year, if he recovers.
But the media are increasingly questioning the implications for Algerian government of the president’s latest absence, given his central constitutional role in running the country, with El Watan warning of a “perilous, multifaceted deadlock.”
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