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Merkel calls off Algeria visit after Bouteflika falls ill

Bouteflika is suffering acute bronchitis according to the Alegrian presidency [AFP]

Date of publication: 21 February, 2017

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German Chancellor Angela Merkel was forced to call off her visit to Algeria at the last minute on Monday due to President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s ill health.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel was forced to call off her visit to Algeria at the last minute on Monday due to President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s ill health, raising further speculation about the frail leader’s medical condition.

Bouteflika, Algeria's longest-serving leader, was suffering acute bronchitis according to a statement by the presidency.

"Algerian and German authorities have today mutually agreed to postpone the official visit" by Merkel, Algeria's presidency said in a statement.

"This postponement is due to the fact that Mr Bouteflika, who is at his residence in Algiers, is temporarily unavailable due to acute bronchitis," it said.

In Berlin, the chancellor's office said: "The Algerian government asked at the last minute that the visit be called off" and Merkel had accepted this.

The 79-year-old president had suffered a mini-stroke in 2013 that affected his mobility and speech.

He has since appeared in public on only a handful of occasions and has travelled several times to France for medical treatment.

Algerians had expected Bouteflika to step down at the end of his third term, but instead he won re-election in 2014, despite his frail health.

Bouteflika has been confined to a wheelchair since his stroke, entertaining foreign guests at his home in Zeralda west of the capital and making few public appearances.

Bouteflika travelled to France in November for "periodic medical checks", but in recent months National Liberation Front chief Djamel Ould Abbes had said his health was improving - even mentioning a possible fifth term in 2019.

"It's the first time in Algerian diplomacy that such a visit has been cancelled," political analyst Rachid Tlemcani said.

The last-minute cancellation of Merkel's trip showed "the Algerian government was tackling serious problems", he said, and reignited a debate about Bouteflika's capacity to act as head of state.

"The situation in the country has become unmanageable due to the president's state of health," Tlemcani said.

"After the cancellation of this visit for a medical reason, it will be difficult for his supporters to defend the idea of a fifth term."

Bouteflika's opponents had spoken of a "power vacuum" since his stroke.

Elected for the first time in 1999, Bouteflika turns 80 on March 2.

Merkel had been due to arrive in the Alegrian capital on Monday afternoon as part of efforts to get North African countries to reduce the flow of migrants across the Mediterranean into Europe.

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