* Young members of ruling party brawl with knives
* Ministers criticise head of FLN party, a presidential ally
* Party chief says crisis invented by the media
By Lamine Chikhi
ALGIERS, Oct 21 Senior members of Algeria's
ruling party have criticised the party leader, an ally of
President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, in a rare show of dissent that
could challenge the head of state's authority.
Cracks appeared in the usually tightly-disciplined FLN after
press reports said young members had brawled with party
officials in some areas, at times with knives, and a minister
asserted that the party leader had lost control and should quit.
Abdelaziz Belkhadem, head of the FLN (Front de Liberation
National) and also a member of the government with the portfolio
of Bouteflika's personal representative, said "it is a crisis
which exists only in the media."
But analysts said that because Belkhadem is so close to the
president, the divisions inside the party -- of which Bouteflika
is honorary president -- could add to perceptions among some
that he is losing influence to rivals inside the ruling elite.
"The current crisis will weaken Bouteflika's authority,"
said Mohamed Lagab, a political analyst and teacher of political
sciences at Algiers' university.
Algeria, a member of OPEC, supplies about a fifth of
Europe's energy needs and is also the world's eighth biggest
The FLN infighting began when young party supporters in
several regions clashed violently with local party officials in
arguments about who would be given influential party posts in a
re-organisation of local offices.
There were some injuries in the violence but no reports or
arrests or prosecutions. The incidents occurred over several
days up until Wednesday, the reports said.
They prompted El Hadi Khaldi, minister for vocational
training, to speak out against Belkhadem.
"We must do something to stop the fight inside the party
which is due to Belkhadem's contradictory instructions to the
membership," Khaldi was quoted as saying by El Khabar newspaper.
"He should follow his predecessors (and step down) ... to stop
members of the party from fighting."
Other serving and former government ministers who are FLN
members have also spoken out in local media against Belkhadem.
The FLN, which has been in or close to the centre of power
since Algeria's independence from France in 1962, controls the
parliament and has a majority of ministers in the government.
"The fact that several ministers are against their boss
(Belkhadem) is troubling. They can't do what they are doing
without getting a green light from influential circles," Nacer
Jabi, a political analyst who has written extensively about the
FLN, told Reuters.
"I am not sure they got the green light, and if they got it,
we need to make sure they have understood it," Jabi said.
Analysts say Bouteflika, 73, has been weakened in the past
year by the departure of close allies from government.
In a reshuffle, Energy Minister Chakib Khelil was fired and
ex-interior minister Nourredine Zerhouni was moved to the post
of deputy prime minister, in which he wields less real power.
The shifts could be a warning signal from some in the
government apparatus who believe that Bouteflika and his allies
have amassed too much power, some analysts say.
(Editing by Mark Heinrich)