ALGIERS (Reuters) - Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who has been seen only occasionally in public since suffering a stroke in 2013, left on Monday for a periodic medical checkup in France, the presidency said in a statement carried by APS state media.
Bouteflika, 79, has visited hospital in Europe several times since his illness, which left him hospitalised in France for months. The veteran of Algeria’s 1954-62 independence war has governed the North African OPEC state for more than 15 years.
“The president of the republic has left the country on Monday,..for a private visit in Grenoble, France where he will undergo periodic medical checks,” the statement said.
Since the stroke, Bouteflika’s health condition and medical checkups have spurred debate about whether he will finish his current term. He was re-elected in 2014 after a campaign where he was only seen when he came out to vote in a wheelchair.
New 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. His supporters say he is in charge and able to rule the country.
Bouteflika has usually only been seen in brief images on state television, but he has made several appearances in public over the last few weeks, inaugurating a conference hall used for an OPEC meeting and an opera house, and visiting a new mosque.
Any talk of transition comes at a sensitive time for Algeria as the OPEC member tries to cut spending and subsidies to offset a sharp drop in revenues from oil sales because of low global crude prices.
Algeria is a major 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 led Algeria out of international isolation and a war with armed Islamists that left an estimated 200,000 people dead in the 1990s. He is still seen by many Algerians as a symbol of stability.
Reporting by Hamid Ould Ahmed; writing by Patrick Markey; editing by Mark Heinrich