by Beatrice Khadige
by Beatrice Khadige
ALGIERS, May 19, 2013 (AFP)
Algeria censored two newspapers for reporting that President Abdelaziz Bouteflika has fallen into a coma three weeks after being hospitalised in Paris, raising speculation on Sunday about his well-being.
The newspapers, reflecting growing concern in Algeria about Bouteflika’s health, said the 76-year-old would return home in a comatose state after his health took a turn for the worse, their chief editor said.
The reports referred to a “deterioration” in the president’s health, said Hichem Aboud, citing French medical sources and relatives of the Algerian leader.
“According to our sources, the president departed for Algeria at 3:00 am (0100 GMT) on Wednesday in a coma,” said Aboud, a former soldier who heads the opposition French-language Mon Journal and the Arabic Djaridati.
“Both newspapers were seized on Saturday night at the presses,” he told AFP.
Aboud said authorities demanded that two pages devoted to Bouteflika’s health be removed from the Sunday edition, adding that he refuses “self-censorship.”
If the reports “were unfounded, it would have been better for the authorities to publish a statement from the president’s personal physician to deny this information or, better still, broadcast images of Bouteflika.”
The media has sharply criticised the lack of official communication about Bouteflika’s health, already considered fragile before he suffered a mini-stroke in April.
Bouteflika was hospitalised in an Algerian military hospital then transferred to France for further treatment.
On May 7 the presidency said in a terse statement that Bouteflika’s health has “significantly improved” but that he must observe “a normal period of rest prescribed by doctors” in France.
The health scare has sparked intense discussion about the future of Bouteflika, ahead of presidential elections in Algeria next year.
His supporters would like Bouteflika, who has ruled for 14 years, to seek a fourth mandate.
But opponents like Islamist leader Abderrezak Mokri have suggested constitutional procedures should be implemented to transfer the reins of power if Bouteflika is incapacitated.
On April 30, Bouteflika addressed Algerians for the first time since arriving in Paris, congratulating workers on the eve of the Labour Day holiday, in a message carried by national media, and insisting he was on the road to recovery.
But he was has not been seen in public since April 17 when state television broadcast footage showing Bouteflika attending the funeral of former president Ali Kafi.
But about 10 days ago Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sella said that the president was following up on issues of national interest day by day.
In the absence of concrete news about the state of his health, the press has carried all sorts of reports.
Algerian officials have been striving to be reassuring but Le Soir d’Algerie newspaper on Sunday spoke of “total confusion”.
It also echoed the million-dollar-question that everyone has been asking in Algeria: “Is Bouteflika still in the Val-de-Grace (French hospital)? Did he have a relapse? When will he return home?”
On Friday the minister of territorial development, Amara Benyounes, said Bouteflika was doing “well.”
On the streets of Algeria, citizens demanded to be better informed on the state of his health.
“They keep on telling us he is well, but (his hospitalisation) is dragging on,” one merchant in the city centre told AFP on Sunday.
A university student said authorities should broadcast footage of Bouteflika on national television “to prove that he is doing better.”