x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Algeria censors newspapers for 'president in a coma' reports

Bouteflika was last seen entering a Paris hospital three weeks ago.

ALGIERS // An editor has accused Algeria's government of censorship after it blocked the publication of his two newspapers.

Hicham Aboud, the editor of the My Journal and Djaridati newspapers, said that the publications were censored after he rejected an order from the communication ministry on Saturday night. They had told him to remove an article claiming Abdelaziz Bouteflika, the president, had slipped into a coma.

The 76-year-old leader suffered a stroke last month and is being treated in France.

Aboud said: "This is more than an act of censorship, it's a ban on publishing." He said the articles were quoting credible medical sources.

The communications ministry said its action prevented a breach of national security.

Three weeks after being rushed to hospital in Paris, Mr Bouteflika has disappeared from sight, leaving behind a country preparing for a successor who, for the first time, will come from a generation too young to have fought in Algeria's war of independence against France. In a country run with Soviet-style secrecy, nobody is sure how sick Mr Bouteflika is.

But despite an official bulletin last week saying he was recovering from a minor stroke, most believe he must be seriously ill to have disappeared from public view for so long.

France's Le Point magazine also cited medical sources as saying some of his vital organs had been badly affected.

French and Algerian officials declined comment but local media have hinted that the country is preparing for a new era.

The loss of Mr Bouteflika would deprive Algeria of the last of the old guard who steered the country from independence in 1962 through civil war against Islamist insurgents in the 1990s to a period of stability funded by vast oil and gas resources.

It would also lead to a bumpy transfer of power before presidential elections due in April 2014 at a time when Algeria's neighbours - among them Mali, Tunisia and Libya - are facing a revival of Islamist militancy in the region.

Algeria's ageing leaders have always conducted their affairs in secrecy, a legacy of their fear of betrayal during the 1954 to 1962 war of independence.

* Associated Press and Reuters