| ALGIERS, Sept 8
ALGIERS, Sept 8 Algeria's President Abdelaziz
Bouteflika made a rare appearance on Thursday to inaugurate a
conference centre, though there was no live coverage of the
event and no images of the ailing leader were immediately
Since suffering a stroke three years ago Bouteflika has
dramatically reduced his public activity, leading Algeria's
opposition to question his ability to rule Africa's biggest
country, and to continuing speculation over the 79-year-old
Presidential polls are not due until 2019, but Bouteflika's
opponents have called for early elections because of his
physical frailty. Legislative elections are scheduled for the
first half of 2017.
Analysts said Bouteflika's appearance was designed to dampen
demands for early presidential elections.
"An anticipated presidential election is not an option for
now," political analyst Arslan Chikhaoui told Reuters.
Bouteflika was last seen openly in public two years ago when
he voted from a wheelchair in the ballot that saw him elected
for a fourth five-year term.
His most recent previous appearance was for Algeria's
independence day celebrations on July 5, and he is usually only
seen in brief state television videos greeting visiting
dignitaries at his presidential residence.
Talk of transition comes at a sensitive time, as Algeria
tries to cut spending and subsidies to offset a sharp drop in
revenues from oil sales.
Algeria is a key supplier of gas to Europe and has
positioned itself as an important Western ally in efforts to
tackle Islamist militancy in North Africa and the Sahel.
First elected in 1999, Bouteflika is still praised by many
Algerians as the man who led Algeria out of international
isolation and a war with armed Islamists that left an estimated
200,000 people dead in the 1990s.
The conference centre that Bouteflika inaugurated, west of
the capital Algiers, is to be used for a meeting of the
Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) on Sept.
A report by state news agency APS said Bouteflika had
unveiled a plaque and visited his personal office within the
centre, before watching a short film by the Chinese and Italian
firms that built and designed the structure.
(Reporting By Lamine Chikhi; Editing by Aidan Lewis)