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Algerian Cabinet Moves Prompt Election Speculation

A photo released by the Algerian Press Service) on June 13, 2013 shows Algeria's President Abdelaziz Bouteflika (R) receiving Algerian Chief of Staff Ahmed Gaid Salah in a military hospital, in Paris, France.
Algeria's President Abdelaziz Bouteflika on Wednesday named new ministers for foreign affairs, the interior and justice in what appeared to be major resumption of political activity since Bouteflika suffered a stroke in April.

The cabinet changes were likely made, observers and analysts said, to strengthen Bouteflika's allies before presidential elections in April 2014 when many expect the convalescing leader will not run again.

The North African oil and gas producer also named a new vice defense minister, the state APS news agency reported, but kept Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal, a key Bouteflika supporter during his absence, according to analysts.

There was also no change at the top of the finance and energy ministries.

Bouteflika, 76, returned to Algeria in July after being treated at a French hospital. State media have since released pictures of him meeting officials and said he was recuperating.

Re-elected for a third term in 2009, Bouteflika has not said whether he will run again after ruling the country for more than a decade. But his illness prompted speculation about a possible transition before the election next year.

“This would seem to suggest that the cabinet shuffle was the public manifestation of behind-the-scenes negotiations between Bouteflika and other groups that are looking to gain political influence in the run-up to the 2014 election,” said Geoff Porter, director of North Africa Risk Consulting.

APS quoted a presidential statement naming Ramtane Lamamra, an African Union official, as foreign minister, and Tayeb Belaiz as interior minister.

Algeria has been run with Soviet-style secrecy for decades by an elite drawn largely from men who fought for independence against France from 1954 to 1962. Bouteflika, who first became president in 1999, is among the last of that generation.

Algeria's oil and gas sector, the main revenue source for the government budget, is also experiencing difficulties with declining output.

That situation was worsened after an attack earlier this year by Islamist fighters on the In Amenas gas plant, jointly owned by BP, Norway's Statoil and Algeria's Sonatrach.