Abdelaziz Bouteflika's illness halts Merkel visit
Algeria's President Abdelaziz Bouteflika had acute bronchitis on Monday, causing German Chancellor Angela Merkel to call off a visit to the North African country at the last minute, the presidency said.
Bouteflika, Algeria's longest-serving leader, suffered a mini-stroke in 2013 that affected his mobility and speech.
The 79-year-old has since appeared in public on only a handful of occasions and has travelled several times to France for medical treatment.
"Algerian and German authorities have today mutually agreed to postpone the official visit" by Merkel, Algeria's presidency said in a statement.
"This postponement is due to the fact that Mr Bouteflika, who is at his residence in Algiers, is temporarily unavailable due to acute bronchitis," it said.
In Berlin, the chancellor's office said: "The Algerian government asked at the last minute that the visit be called off," and Merkel accepted this.
Algerians had expected Bouteflika to step down at the end of his third term, but instead he won re-election in 2014, despite his frail health.
Bouteflika has been confined to a wheelchair since his stroke, entertaining foreign guests at his home in Zeralda west of the capital.
Bouteflika travelled to France in November for "periodic medical checks," but in recent months National Liberation Front chief Djamel Ould Abbes had said his health was improving - even mentioning a possible fifth term in 2019.
"It's the first time in Algerian diplomacy that such a visit has been cancelled," said political analyst Rachid Tlemcani.
The last-minute cancellation of Merkel's trip showed "the Algerian government was tackling serious problems," he said, and reignited a debate about Bouteflika's capacity to act as head of state.
"The situation in the country has become unmanageable due to the president's state of health," Tlemcani said.
"After the cancellation of this visit for a medical reason, it will be difficult for his supporters to defend the idea of a fifth term."
Bouteflika's opponents say the president's illness is causing a "power vacuum" in the country.
Elected for the first time in 1999, Bouteflika turns 80 on 2 March.
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