After the defence and foreign ministries had initially declined to comment on his presence, a French diplomatic source said on Thursday that "the Algerian president has been admitted to the Val de Grace hospital for a medical check-up".

Val de Grace in southern Paris is the hospital where Abdelaziz Bouteflika, 69, was operated on for a haemorrhagic stomach ulcer in December.

The secrecy surrounding Bouteflika's visit bore similarities to the handling of his admission to hospital in November, when officials at first said he was in France for a check-up after suffering problems with his digestive system.

Nine days later the official APS news agency announced the head of the oil-rich North African state had successfully come through stomach ulcer surgery.

Speculation

Abdelaziz Belkhadem, the Algerian minister of state, who has the title of the president's personal representative in the government, sought to cool fresh speculation over his health.

"I want to calm things and say that it is just a routine check-up and anybody who had surgery should go through that process. I want to say also that the president is in very good health," Belkhadem said.

Belkhadem says the president
is in good health

An official Algerian communique said that Bouteflika arrived in France on April 19 and that his trip had been long planned.

Bouteflika's trip to Paris follows fresh strains in the relationship between Algeria and its former colonial ruler.

On Monday, a week after a visit by Philippe Douste-Blazy, the French foreign minister, Boutelfika said in a speech that France had committed genocide during its rule.

"This wasn't only a genocide against the Algerian people but also a genocide against Algerian identity," he said.

He has made such comments before, but his decision to hit out at France's record in Algeria so soon after Douste-Blazy's visit was widely seen as a rebuff to Paris.

French outrage

Jean-Marie Le Pen, a French far-right leader, said he was outraged that Bouteflika should accuse France of genocide and then accept medical help.

Le Pen was outraged by 
charges  of French genocide (file)

"I don't understand very well what this gentleman is doing coming for treatment by the terrible colonialists that we are," Le Pen told RMC radio.

Lionnel Lucas, a deputy from the ruling UMP party, branded the visit "indecent", adding it was not the first time the Algerian leader had insulted France.

During Douste-Blazy's trip, officials of both countries said that they were willing to sign a delayed friendship treaty but that they needed more time to strike the deal.

France is the largest supplier of Algeria's imports and the two nations were due to sign the accord, similar to the 1963 Franco-German reconciliation treaty, at the end of last year to end tension that followed 132 years of occupation.

Legislation

But France's National Assembly approved in February 2005 a law referring to the "positive role of the French presence overseas, especially in North Africa", a move seen by Algiers as a hurdle on the way to normalisation with Paris.

The disputed legal move was recently repealed by French President Jacques Chirac, but the decision did not help defuse the crisis between the two countries.

Algeria last year called on France to apologise for crimes committed during the colonial era. Bouteflika also urged Paris to admit its part in the massacres of 45,000 Algerians who took to the streets to demand independence as Europe celebrated victory over Nazi Germany in 1945.

French authorities then responded by playing down the comments, urging "mutual respect".

The 1954-1962 war of independence cost the lives of 1.5 million Algerians, according to the Algiers government. Many French also perished.