Algeria's Bouteflika, clinging to power despite ill health

14th November 2014, Comments 0 comments

Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, admitted to hospital in France for the second time in two years, has a long history of illness and has hardly appeared publicly since his reelection.

The Grenoble clinic where he is being treated gave no reason Friday for his hospitalisation or any details on the condition of the 77-year-old, who has been in poor health since suffering a mini-stroke last year.

Bouteflika, who did not even campaign for reelection and voted from a wheelchair, still won 81 percent of April's vote.

Until then, he had not appeared in public since May 2012, and has done so only twice since his reelection.

His decision to seek a fourth mandate after 15 years in power sparked both derision and criticism from those who questioned his ability to rule after the mini-stroke.

As early as 2005, he was hospitalised in Paris after suffering an intestinal haemorrhage and has never fully recovered.

However, Bouteflika still remains popular, being credited with helping to end a devastating civil war in the 1990s and contain Arab Spring protests in 2011.

A veteran of the war of independence against France, Bouteflika first came to power in 1999.

His third term was dogged not only by ill health but also by corruption scandals.

- 'Not three-quarters a president' -And he has never freed himself from the pervasive control of the military, despite being determined to roll back its influence and curb the powers of its intelligence heads, who have dominated politics since independence.

"I'm not three-quarters of a president," he said after being first elected in 1999, addressing critics who saw him as another puppet of the military.

Despite his efforts, the army and the DRS intelligence agency are still widely considered to be the real power in Algeria.

Bouteflika was born in Morocco on March 2, 1937 to a family from western Algeria.

In 1956, he joined the National Liberation Front (FLN) in its struggle against France.

At just 25, he became minister of sport and tourism under Algeria's first president, Ahmed Ben Bella.

From 1963 until 1979 he was foreign minister.

A dapper figure known for his three-piece suit even in baking Saharan conditions, Bouteflika is respected by many for his role in ending the civil war that killed at least 150,000 people.

The military-backed government's decision to cancel elections in 1991, which an Islamist party had been poised to win, sparked the decade of bloodletting.

Bouteflika proposed an amnesty for rebels who laid down their arms and twice secured public endorsement for "national reconciliation" through referendums.

The first, in September 1999, was a major gamble but paid off, leading to a sharp decrease in violence that helped propel Bouteflika to a second term in 2004.

The resignation shortly afterwards of Mohamed Lamari, a Moscow-trained former army chief and key proponent of eradicating the armed Islamists, was a step forward in curbing the military's power.

And the 2007 death of General Smain Lamari, a close ally of the shadowy intelligence chief Mohamed "Tewfik" Mediene, the powerful hidden force in Algerian politics, was thought to further strengthen Bouteflika's hand.

- High youth unemployment -But he never succeeded in neutralising Mediene, despite steps to emasculate the military intelligence agency in 2013.

Bouteflika's third term in 2009 followed a constitutional amendment allowing him to stand again.

His supporters argue that under his stewardship public and private investment created millions of jobs and dramatically lowered unemployment.

But a lack of opportunity continues to drive many Algerians abroad as youth unemployment remains high, despite windfall oil revenues.

When the Arab Spring erupted in January 2011, Algeria witnessed deadly unrest.

A month later, Bouteflika met an opposition demand and lifted a 19-year state of emergency.

He also granted pay rises and announced piecemeal political reforms.

But these won little opposition support, and legislative elections in May 2012 saw the FLN tighten its control of parliament.

In April 2013, Bouteflika was rushed to hospital in France after suffering a mini-stroke, and spent three months recovering.

Since his reelection, he has been seen in public only twice -- chairing a meeting on border security and meeting veteran Algerian diplomat Lakhdar Brahimi, former UN-Arab League envoy on the Syrian conflict.


© 2014 AFP

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