Algeria's Bouteflika says health won’t prevent election bid

Bouteflika rarely appeared in public since an illness put him into a Paris hospital for months

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Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika said in a letter published on Saturday his poor health would not prevent him from running for a fourth term and promised constitutional reforms if he wins the April 17 ballot.

Bouteflika, 77, registered for the vote earlier this month despite suffering from a stroke last year that opponents say has left him unfit to campaign or govern the North African oil producer for another five years.

In the letter published by APS state news agency, Bouteflika gave his most detailed remarks yet about his intentions although he has spoken and appeared only rarely in public since the illness that put him into a Paris hospital for months.

"It would cost me dearly to remain deaf to your calls. I decided not to disappoint you and offer myself as a candidate for the presidential election ... and give all my energy to fulfilling your wishes," the letter said.

With the backing of the dominant National Liberation Front(FLN), loyal army factions and unions, Bouteflika is almost assured victory in Algeria, a key partner in Washington's campaign on Islamist militancy in the Maghreb.

Loyalists portray Bouteflika as the man who pulled Algeria out of its 1990s war with Islamist militants, a conflict that killed around 200,000 people and has left many Algerians still wary of political turmoil and upheaval.

"I propose to devote this new mandate you have demanded of me to preserving our country from internal and external hostilities," the president said in his letter.

Critics say since its 1962 independence from France, Algerian politics have been dominated by a group of FLN elites and army generals who, while competing behind the scenes for influence, see themselves as guarantors of stability.

Six opposition parties, including Islamist and secular movements, have announced that they will boycott April's vote which they say is unfairly tilted in FLN's favor. They remain weak and divided, though, and no opposition candidate is likely to seriously challenge Bouteflika.

In his letter, Bouteflika said if re-elected he would seek reforms to create a political model with different segments of society that would "meet the expectations and hopes of the people", without giving further details.

"That would be realized through a constitutional reform, which could take place during the current year," he said.

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