Algerian PM steps down to run Bouteflika campaign

Energy Minister Youcef Yousfi will replace Sellal as interim premier

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Algerian premier Abdelmalek Sellal resigned Thursday to head the re-election campaign of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika who is expected to secure a fourth term next month despite serious health concerns.

Sellal, 65, is a technocrat with no party affiliations but extensive political experience, having been closely involved in the presidential election campaigns in 2004 and 2009 that returned Bouteflika to power.

He faces a challenge, with many critics charging that the 77-year-old president, hospitalised for three months in Paris last year after suffering a mini stroke and rarely seen in public, is in no fit state to run the country.

Televised images of him that have emerged show a frail Bouteflika invariably always seated and barely audible.

In power since 1999, he has spoken in public only once in the past two years, when he registered his candidacy last week for the April 17 election.

Sellal must also confront charges from the opposition that Bouteflika’s decision to seek a fourth term makes the election a foregone conclusion, with dozens of opposition candidates having already dropped out of the race, citing expectations of fraud.

Around 40 demonstrators were arrested in Algiers last week during a protest organised by Barakat, a new movement calling for a change of leadership.

The outgoing prime minister has already spent much of the past year travelling around the country defending the president’s track record. He is the only prime minister under Bouteflika to have commented on his medical condition, a highly sensitive issue.

Last month, when he first announced the president’s decision to contest the election, Sellal insisted that Bouteflika was “in good health” and had “the intellectual capacity and vision needed” to perform his duties.

Hailing from the eastern city of Constantine, the outgoing premier held a number of cabinet posts including the water and public works portfolios before being tasked with heading the government in September 2012.

He chairs the national preparatory committee formed in January for the upcoming presidential election.

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