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Middle East and North Africa (MENA): News from Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Sudan, Tunisia, Iraq, Libya, Algeria

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  • Zafar Khan
    SAUDI ARABIA Saudi Arabia to allow girls to play sport at private schools Students must adhere to decent dress code and sharia law, but move is seen as thaw
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 16, 2013

      Saudi Arabia to allow girls to play sport at private schools
      Students must adhere to 'decent' dress code and sharia law, but move is seen as thaw in kingdom's restrictions on women
      AP in Riyadh
      guardian.co.uk, Sunday 5 May 2013 12.47 BST


      Saudi Arabian girls will be allowed to play sport in private schools for the first time in the latest in a series of incremental changes aimed at slowly increasing women's rights in the ultraconservative kingdom.

      Saudi Arabia's official press agency, SPA, reported on Saturday that private girls' schools are now allowed to hold sport activities in accordance with the rules of sharia law. Students must adhere to "decent dress" codes and Saudi women teachers will be given priority in supervising the activities, according to the education ministry's requirements.

      The decision makes sport once again a stage for the push to improve women's rights, nearly a year after two Saudi female athletes made an unprecedented appearance at the Olympics.

      "It's about time," said Aziza Youssef, a professor at King Saud University. "Everything is being held back in Saudi Arabia as far as women's rights."

      Youssef said she saw the decision to allow sport for girls in private schools as part of a package of wider reforms targeting women, but that continued restrictions on sport was a discrimination that had a negative impact on women's health.

      SPA quoted an education ministry spokesman, Mohammed al-Dakhini, saying the decision to allow girls to play sport in private schools "stems from the teachings of our religion, which allow women such activities in accordance with sharia".

      The government had previously quietly tolerated physical education in some private schools, but there is no set curriculum.

      The decision, which also means private girls' schools are obliged to provide appropriate places and equipment for sport, is a monumental step that is likely to affect public schools and universities – which are also gender segregated – in the near future, Youssef said.

      The Saudi government plays a role in private schools, providing textbooks and directors.

      The Saudi deputy minister of education Nora al-Fayez, in charge of women's affairs, was recently quoted in local press saying there was a plan to expand sport education in public schools. It remains unclear if girls would have access to the same level of physical education as boys.

      Sport for women in Saudi Arabia has largely been a pastime of elites who can afford expensive health club memberships. They are often attached to hospitals, since women's gyms were closed in 2010 on grounds they were unlicensed.

      Saudi Arabia allowed two female athletes to compete in last summer's Olympics only after the International Olympics Committee had put intense pressure on the kingdom to end its practice of sending only male teams to the games. Their participation was not shown on Saudi TV stations.

      Women's sport remains nearly an underground activity in the kingdom. Only the largest female university – Princess Nora Bint Abdul Rahman Unviersity – has a swimming pool, tennis court and exercise area for its students. No other university in Saudi Arabia has sport facilities for its female students and staff.

      Women are also bound by strict rules when it comes to their attire, so they cannot, for example, be seen by men while jogging in trousers. Almost all women in Saudi Arabia cover their face with a niqab, and even foreigners are obliged to respect local culture and wear an abaya, a loose black dress.

      Female athletes cannot register for sport clubs or league competitions. They are banned from entering national trials, which makes it impossible for them to qualify for international competitions.

      The government has turned a blind eye, though, to tournaments where all-female teams play against one another.

      King Abdullah is seen as pushing for these reforms. Other Saudi rulers have also quietly tried to modernise the country, with King Faisal's wife opening the first school for girls in the late 1950s.

      But the monarch is facing edicts from powerful and influential senior Saudi clerics who are against all types of sporting activities for women. They argue that in order for a woman to remain protected from harassment, she must avoid public roles.

      Despite such rhetoric, thousands of women work as doctors and professors in Saudi Arabia. Women will be allowed to run for office and vote for the first time in the 2015 municipal elections. There have also been a number of incremental and significant changes that have afforded women new roles in recent months.

      A law was implemented last year to allow women to work as shop assistants, and women now have seats on the country's top advisory council. A woman was licensed to practise law for the first time last month, and a ban was lifted on allowing women to ride motorbikes and bicycles.

      But with each move comes restrictions. Women are only allowed to work at shops for women, such as lingerie stores. The 30 women who now serve on the country's Shura Council, which advises the king, were segregated from the 130 men in the chamber, and plans for a proposed barrier that would separate the genders remains under discussion. Moreover, there are no guarantees that women who become licensed lawyers will not face discrimination in the courtroom. Lastly, women may be allowed to ride bikes in parks, but they have to be accompanied by a male relative and dressed in the abaya.

      In other areas, freedoms for women are still severely limited. They are not allowed to drive nor are they allowed to travel or attend school without the permission of a male guardian.

      A 52-page report on women's sports in Saudi Arabia issued by Human Rights Watch last year urged the government to set benchmarks for physical education, to set a curriculum and to launch a public outreach campaign about girls' rights to physical education.

      "Although religious views opposing prohibition on women's participation in sport are less frequently pronounced than those in favour, government policy is only inching toward realising women's right to sport rather than taking bold steps to realise it," the report said.

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      Turkey protests: Istanbul erupts as Gezi Park cleared
      16 June 2013 Last updated at 08:48


      Protesters have clashed with Turkish police in Istanbul, after riot squads used tear gas and water cannon to eject demonstrators from Gezi Park.

      The protesters quickly fled the park, but later erected barricades across nearby streets and lit bonfires.

      Witnesses said it was one of the worst nights of unrest since the park was occupied 18 days ago.

      Police blocked off the Bosphorus Bridge to stop demonstrators reaching Taksim Square, where the park is located.

      Clashes continued into Sunday morning in the streets around the square, eyewitnesses say. On the square itself, bulldozers went to work, clearing away the protesters' abandoned barricades.

      Thousands of people also took to the streets of the capital, Ankara, to express support for the protests.

      The Confederation of Public Workers' Unions (KESK) also said it would call a nationwide strike on Monday, while another union grouping is deciding whether to join the action.

      Medical officials estimate that 5,000 people have been injured and at least four killed since protests began in earnest on 31 May.

      Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is due to hold a rally in Istanbul later on Sunday.

      Turkish police force protesters out of square
      Fresh riot squads arrive in Istanbul's Taksim Square to stop protesters re-entering after night of clashes.
      Last Modified: 12 Jun 2013 09:01


      An uneasy calm has descended over Istanbul's Taksim Square, the focal point of protests in Turkey, after a night of violent clashes that ended with demonstrators being ejected by the police.

      Riot police used tear gas and water cannon on Tuesday evening, just hours after Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the prime minister, demanded an immediate end to almost two weeks of dissent.

      Al Jazeera's Mereana Hond said fresh squads of police had arrived on Wednesday morning to replace those left exhausted by a night of violence. The square has also been re-opened for traffic.

      Taksim Square became the cradle for anti-government protests, which were spawned following heavy-handed police action to end an environmental protest in nearby Gezi Park.

      Police overnight also fired tear gas on protesters in Gezi Park, despite earlier assurances that police would not try to remove people camped there.

      Ugur Ozcan, a protester, said: "The governor promised not to make a move against Gezi Park. But for nearly eight to 10 hours the police have been attacking, even in the park.... this is brutal."

      Huseyin Avni Mutlu, the Istanbul governor, said on Tuesday: "I would like to say again we won't be intervening upon the young people staying in the park. After today's operation in Taksim, those protesters in Gezi Park are staying in a very risky area. If they decide to remain in this risky area it will be risky for them."

      Gezi Park has been turned into a ramshackle settlement of tents by leftists, environmentalists, liberals, students and professionals who see the development plan as symptomatic of overbearing government.

      Defiant Erdogan

      The wider anti-government protests have cited Erdogan as an authoritarian ruler and some suspect him of ambitions to replace the secular republic with an Islamic order, something he denies.

      Erdogan, however, says the protests are engineered by vandals, terrorist elements and unnamed foreign forces.

      Despite the demonstrations, he remains unrivalled as a leader in his AK Party, in parliament and on the streets.

      His critics, who say conservative religious elements have won out over centrists in the AK Party, accuse him of inflaming the crisis with unyielding talk.

      Erdogan, who denies accusations of authoritarian behaviour, declared he would not yield.

      "They say the prime minister is rough. Were we going to kneel down in front of these [people]?" Erdogan told a meeting of his AK Party's parliamentary group on Tuesday as action to clear Taksim Square began.

      Turkey's Medical Association said that as of late Monday, 4,947 people had sought treatment in hospitals and voluntary infirmaries for injuries, ranging from cuts and burns to breathing difficulties from tear-gas inhalation, since the unrest began more than 10 days ago.

      Four people, including a policeman, have died in the protests.

      Turkey's conservatives coalesce under Erdogan
      The AK Party has united social conservatives and presided over a burgeoning economy, but also left the nation divided.
      Umut Uras Last Modified: 11 Jun 2013 14:37


      Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has flexed the muscles of his ruling Justice and Development (AK) Party over the last few days at pro-government rallies across the country, as raucous protests by a wide spectrum of disenchanted Turks continue.

      Turkey has been in a turmoil since late May after a sit-in protest against an urban development project in the heart of Istanbul, the largest province and financial capital of the country, transformed into country-wide anti-government demonstrations.

      More than two weeks into the uprising, reports of excessive force by police continue to surface, and peaceful protests occasionally turn into acts of vandalism and violent street clashes.

      Erdogan, meanwhile, refuses to alter his position regarding the development project, downplaying and rebuking the so-called "Gezi Park protests".

      "We won't do what a small number of looters have done - they burn and destroy," Erdogan said on Sunday from the southern province of Adana.

      In a separate speech, however, he called on the protesters to stop the rallies warning, "Or else I will have to speak the language you understand. Patience has an end to it."

      Erdogan's conservative shift draws fire
      Turkey's prime minister was once championed for implementing democratic reform, but critics accuse him of losing touch.
      Tom A Peter Last Modified: 11 Jun 2013 08:12


      Erdoğan demands end to Turkey protests
      More than 10,000 supporters cheered defiant Turkish prime minister outside an Istanbul airport
      Luke Harding and Constanze Letsch in Istanbul and agencies
      guardian.co.uk, Friday 7 June 2013 12.24 BST


      The Turkish prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, has delivered a fiery speech on his return to the country, telling supporters who thronged to greet him that the protests that have swept the country must end.

      Addressing crowds at Istanbul airport from an open-top bus after returning from a trip to north Africa, Erdoğan called on his ruling party faithful to show restraint and distance themselves from "dirty games" and "lawless protests".

      Despite earlier comments that suggested he could be softening his stand, Erdoğan was in combative mood.

      "These protests that are bordering on illegality must come to an end immediately," he said.

      Erdoğan's reaction has been seen as decisive in determining whether the demonstrations fizzle out or rage on. As he spoke thousands of protesters were also rallying in Istanbul's Taksim Square. Some of the demonstrators in Taksim chanted "Tayyip resign", while others sang and danced.

      Back at the airport Erdoğan's supporters were equally defiant. "Those who raise their hands against the police should have their hands broken," they chanted.

      Rights groups say thousands of people have been injured in the demonstrations. Three people have died – two protesters and a police officer.

      "We stood strong, but we were never stubborn ... We are together, we are unified, we are brothers," Erdoğan told the crowd, who had blocked roads to the airport for hours, waiting for him until long after midnight.

      "They say I am the prime minister of only 50%. It's not true. We have served the whole of the 76 million from the east to the west," Erdoğan said at the airport, referring to his election win in 2011, when he took 50% of the vote.

      Speaking before he left Tunisia, Erdoğan, had vowed to press ahead with the controversial redevelopment of the square in Istanbul that prompted the protests.

      Erdoğan acknowledged that some of those who had defended Istanbul's Gezi Park had acted for genuine environmental reasons. But he also said "terror groups" were behind Turkey's biggest demonstrations in years and hinted at a plot involving radical Marxist-Leninists.

      "Public property was damaged during the Gezi Park protests. The Taksim [Square] project is a project that will make Istanbul more beautiful," Erdoğan said.

      He pledged to press ahead with the building of an Ottoman barracks on the site next to the park, despite the vehement objections of protesters. "You cannot rule a state with the logic of give and take," he said.

      Protesters massing in Gezi Park – now the scene of a vast Glastonbury-style democracy festival – branded him out of touch with the public mood.

      "He's very stubborn. I can't really understand him," Ayce Malkoc, 26, said. "We will still go on protesting. We need green space."

      Another protester, Lale, who declined to give her second name, said: "We don't want to fight. But we are not going to give up either."

      Erdoğan did not say sorry but he did refer to an apology made by his deputy, Bülent Arınç, who on Tuesday admitted the police had behaved excessively, using too much teargas. Striking a defiant tone, Erdoğan said his Islamist-rooted Justice and Development party (AKP) had won three elections and notched up 21 million votes. "We are against the majority tyrannising the minority. But we are definitely against the minority tyrannising the majority."

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      PM calls social media "the worst menace to society" as Turks organise protests and break news stories using Twitter.
      Oray Egin Last Modified: 04 Jun 2013 15:56


      The view from Taksim Square: why is Turkey now in turmoil?
      A peaceful sit-in to protect one of Istanbul's last public parks has become a barometer of the country's discontent with its increasingly authoritarian government. But is it fair to label this protest a 'Turkish spring'?
      Elif Shafak
      The Guardian, Monday 3 June 2013 18.30 BST


      Turkey alcohol laws could pull the plug on Istanbul nightlife
      Retailers in the city's Beyoglu district are worried about the likely impact on business and loss of traditions
      Constanze Letsch in Istanbul
      guardian.co.uk, Friday 31 May 2013 10.21 BST


      Syria denies link to Turkey car bombs
      Syrian minister denies Turkish claim that groups backing Assad were behind twin blasts that killed at least 46 people.
      Last Modified: 12 May 2013 15:05


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      South Sudan town 'trashed by army'
      UN says town of Pibor has been destroyed, between fighting and looting, by rebels and army soldiers alike.
      Last Modified: 18 May 2013 02:37


      Al Jazeera has gained access to a South Sudanese town, where fighting and looting have forced most of the population to leave.

      Homes and a hospital have been looted and destroyed, with the UN blaming South Sudanese soldiers who have been fighting a regional rebel group.

      The army denies the charge, but medical staff and patients at the hospital, the only such facility for 150km, said they had been threatened by soldiers.

      Jonglei state is the scene of a rebel insurgency that has steadily gained momentum. An organisation that calls itself the South Sudan Democratic Movement says it wants to overthrow the government and it has taken significant territory in the east of the country.

      Al Jazeera's Anna Cavell reports from Pibor, South Sudan.


      Tunisia bans Salafist group's meeting
      Interior ministry says annual congress would be in violation of law and represents threat to public order.
      Last Modified: 18 May 2013 12:45


      The Tunisian government has banned a Salafist group from holding its annual congress, according to the interior ministry.

      The ministry said on Friday that Ansar al-Sharia's congress planned for Saturday posed a threat to public order.

      "We have decided to prohibit this gathering, which would be in violation of the law and because of the threat it represents to public order," the ministry announced.

      "All those who defy the authority of the state and its institutions, who try to sow chaos, who incite violence and hatred will bear all the responsibility."

      It promised a tough response to "anyone who tries to attack the forces of order" and said the police and army were on "high alert to protect the security of citizens and their property".

      Al Jazeera's Youssef Gaigi, reporting from the capital, Tunis, said there was a large presence of security forces in the city and on the road to Kairouan, the venue for the meeting, and that people suspected of heading there were being intercepted.

      Request 'pending'

      Earlier, Lotfi Ben Jeddou, the interior minister, said Ansar al-Sharia, which does not recognise the authority of the state, had not submitted a request for authorisation to hold the meeting.

      Rached Ghannouchi, who heads the moderate Islamist ruling party Ennahda, said this week that the government would not allow Ansar al-Sharia to hold its congress, in advance of the final ruling.

      Ansar al-Sharia's remained defiant, pledging to go ahead with the gathering in the historical central city of Kairouan and warned that the government will be responsible for any violence.

      "We are not asking permission from the government to preach the word of God and we warn against any police intervention to prevent the congress from taking place," Seifeddine Rais, the group's spokesman said, said on Thursday.

      Rais said more than 40,000 people were expected to attend the congress.

      US embassy warning

      Ansar al-Sharia urged its supporters on Friday evening to travel in groups, without calling off the event.

      "We advise our brothers coming to Kairouan to travel in groups and not to be separated because the agents of the tyrant are blocking most intersections and provoking our brothers by showing their weapons," it said on its Facebook page.

      Salafists advocate an ultra-conservative brand of Sunni Islam, and Ansar al-Sharia is considered the most radical of the groups that emerged after the 2011 revolution that toppled the longtime ruler Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

      Islamists have been blamed for a wave of violence across the country, including an attack on the US embassy in September that left four assailants dead.

      The group's fugitive leader, Saif Allah Bin Hussein, a former al-Qaeda fighter in Afghanistan, gave warning last week he would wage war against the government, accusing it of pursuing policies against Islam.

      Bin Hussein, who goes by the name of Abu Iyadh, was jailed under Ben Ali but freed after the uprising. His movement has denied any connection with fighters being hunted by the army in the border region with Algeria.


      Scores killed in Iraq car bombings
      At least 48 killed and dozens injured in blasts at markets and police checkpoints across the country.
      Last Modified: 11 Jun 2013 04:18


      A wave of violence across Iraq has killed at least 48 people, many of them in a series of attacks in the northern city of Mosul.

      Twenty-eight people were killed in the city, which is populated mainly by Sunni Arabs, when four car bombs targeted the army and police on Monday, a police official told Al Jazeera, adding that a curfew had been imposed.

      Three attackers were among the dead and about 80 people were wounded, the source said.

      Earlier in the day, car bombings hit two markets in central Iraq, killing at least 22 civilians and wounding 30 others, officials said.

      A police officer said three car bombs exploded virtually simultaneously, tearing through a wholesale vegetable and fruit market in the town of Jadidat al-Shatt in Diyala, just outside the provincial capital of Baquba, about 60km northeast of Baghdad.

      The blasts left 13 dead and more than 50 wounded among the wreckage of fruit and vegetable stalls, local officials and police said.

      Another car bomb hit a market in the religiously-mixed town of Taji, 20km north of Baghdad, killing at least eight more people, police and hospital sources said.

      A car bomb also exploded at an army base south of Kirkuk, killing one soldier and wounding six others, security sources told Al Jazeera.

      In Madaen town south of Baghdad, two bombs targeted a federal police checkpoint, killing three people and injuring 10 more, and in the Sadr neighbourhood in northern Baghdad a bomb exploded at a cafe, killing one and injuring eight.

      No group claimed the attacks, but Iraq is facing a surge in sectarian violence that officials blame on Sunni fighters determined to drag the country into a civil war.

      Growing violence has tracked rising political tensions between Shia leaders and minority Sunnis who feel their sect has been marginalised since the fall of Saddam Hussein after the 2003 US-led invasion.

      According to the UN, at least 1,045 Iraqi civilians and security personnel were killed in May. The tally surpassed April's 712 killed.

      Iraqi tribal leaders demand federation
      All-out war threatened by Anbar's Sunni leaders as new wave of sectarian violence leaves at least 77 people dead.
      Last Modified: 20 May 2013 20:30


      Tribal leaders in Iraq are warning of war unless the country splits into a federation amid a deadly new wave of apparently sectarian violence.

      Monday's attacks across Iraqi cities left at least 77 people dead and more than 248 others injured, officials say, pushing the death toll over the past week to well above 200.

      On the same day, the pan-Arab newspaper Al-Hayat reported that Sunni protest leaders had called for "armed confrontation or the declaration of an [autonomous] region".

      In response, Nouri al-Maliki, the Iraqi prime minister, said he was willing to contemplate the establishment of an autonomous region in the Sunni-dominated western provinces, provided it came about through the correct legal procedures, according to the independent Al Sumaria television.

      Maliki also said he would overhaul Iraq's security strategy. "We are about to make changes in the high and middle positions of those responsible for security, and the security strategy," he said at a news conference in Baghdad on Monday.

      "We will discuss this matter in the cabinet session tomorrow [Tuesday] to take decisions," he said, without providing further details.

      "I assure the Iraqi people that they [attackers] will not be able to return us to the sectarian conflict" that killed tens of thousands of people in Iraq in past years.

      Sectarian violence

      Weeks of sectarian violence have stirred fears of a return to all-out civil war, and Monday's bloodshed is likely to heighten them further.

      In Hilla, south of Baghdad, bombings during evening prayers at two Shia Muslim mosques killed 13 people and wounded another 71, police and a doctor said.

      One bomb exploded inside Al-Wardiyah mosque, while a suicide bomber detonated an explosives-rigged belt at Al-Graita mosque nearby.

      A car bomb exploded in Shaab, a mainly Shia area in north Baghdad, killing 12 people and wounding at least 20, officials said.

      Two car bombs went off in the main southern port city of Basra, killing 13 people and wounding 48, while a wave of other bombings hit Baghdad, killing at least 11 people and wounding 102.

      In Balad, north of the capital, a car bomb exploded near a bus carrying Iranian pilgrims, killing eight people and wounding another 15.

      North of Baghdad, six Sahwa (Awakening) anti-al-Qaeda fighters were killed and 27 wounded in three separate attacks on Monday.

      The Sahwa are made up of Sunni Arab tribesmen who joined forces with the US military against al-Qaeda from late 2006, helping to turn the tide against the insurgency.

      And a car bomb killed one person and wounded four in Rutba, a town in Anbar province, west of Baghdad, while a roadside bomb in the northern city of Mosul wounded three people.


      Libyan army chief quits after deadly clashes
      Army chief of staff Yussef al-Mangoush resigns after clashes in Benghazi on Saturday killed at least 31 people.
      Last Modified: 09 Jun 2013 22:05


      Libya's army chief of staff has resigned after clashes in the eastern city of Benghazi killed 31 people, according to members of the national assembly.

      Yussef al-Mangoush told the General National Congress, Libya's highest political body, that he would no longer continue in the job and the assembly accepted the resignation, members present at Sunday's closed-door session said.

      Fighting erupted on Saturday after dozens of demonstrators stormed a base belonging to the Libya Shield brigade, a group of militias with roots in the rebel groups that fought in the country's 2011 civil war. They are tasked with maintaining security and aligned with the Defence Ministry.

      The congress picked Salem al-Gnaidy, Mangoush's deputy, to fill the position until a new army chief is picked, Reuters news agency reported citing a member of the assembly.

      The protesters were demanding that militias leave their camp and submit to the full authority of Libya's security forces.

      Mohamed Belied, director of Benghazi’s al-Jala hospital, said on Sunday that the deaths were caused by gunshots and explosive fragments. Hospital officials also said that protesters made up most of the casualties.

      Adel Tarhuni, spokesman for the Libya Shield, said one member of the brigade had died and another seven were wounded. He said there was a peaceful demonstration in front of the brigade's headquarters, before armed men infiltrated it.

      'Against stability'

      In a statement on Sunday, Prime Minister Ali Zidan described the events as “sad and painful” and urged people to be cautious and exercise self-restraint.

      Zidan said the protesters demanded that a checkpoint at the entrance of the town be removed and that members of the Libya Shield leave the camp so that the police and army could take over. He said full details would be announced when investigations were completed.

      Ahmed Belashahr, a local activist, said: "People protested because they believe militias go against Libya's stability, which can only be achieved through a proper army and police."

      Witnesses said some of the protesters came armed. The camp was believed to house dozens of Libya Shield militiamen, while the protesters who attacked their camp were estimated to number several hundreds.

      Members of the Libya Shield abandoned the camp following the attack in a move designed to defuse tension, witnesses said.

      The fighting was the latest episode of lawlessness to hit the North African country, which is going through a rocky transition after its bloody 2011 civil war.

      Security remains elusive in the country, still abundant with weapons from the war and prone to outbreaks of violence over private and political affairs.

      Last September, shortly after an attack on the US mission in Benghazi in which the American ambassador and three others were killed, the city saw a huge outpouring of public anger at the militias.

      While some Libyans view the continued presence of militias as an obstacle to restoring security in the country, others believe they are playing a positive role in maintaining law and order while efforts to rebuilt a professional army and police force are under way.


      Ailing Algerian president appears on TV
      Abdelaziz Bouteflika, 76, tries to dispel fears he is incapacitated after he suffered full stroke in late April.
      Last Modified: 13 Jun 2013 07:29


      Algeria's ailing President Abdelaziz Bouteflika has made a rare television appearance from his hospital bed in France, following a stroke last month.

      The video shown on Wednesday of the 76-year-old Bouteflika was designed to stem rampant rumours in the capital Algiers and in Paris that he had been totally incapacitated, or worse.

      Viewers saw Bouteflika speaking during a visit in France on Tuesday with Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal and the army chief of staff, General Gaid Salah. The guests bent to hear him.

      The left side of the president's mouth appeared immobile as he ate pastry. He did not move his left hand placed on a chair arm at Les Invalides military compound where he was hospitalised.

      Bouteflika's office waited until Tuesday to reveal he had suffered a full stroke.

      French media have been carrying increasingly grim reports about the leader's condition, suggesting he will not be able to continue carrying out his duties.

      The Algerian government has been trying to reassure the public about the president's health, issuing a bulletin saying the president's doctors in Paris "recommended that he observe a period of convalescence and functional rehabilitation to consolidate his recovery".


      It also said the stroke Bouteflika suffered on April 27 had "not affected his vital functions", and that he had been transferred to the Val de Grace hospital in Paris for further tests.

      There is increasing speculation in Algeria that Bouteflika would not run for a fourth term in April 2014 as planned, possibly setting off a succession struggle in the oil-rich nation, Africa's largest by area.

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

      Prime Minister Sellal said the head of state had "responded very well and his health seemed fine", adding that he had given detailed instructions on running the country.

      He said Bouteflika had instructed Sellal "to finalise the draft finance act for 2013 and all the other bills being considered by the government so that they are ready to be adopted at the next cabinet meeting".

      Following the president's stroke, calls have grown in the Algerian 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.
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