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.