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Algeria: Bouteflika leaves Presidential Palace for first time in almost four months - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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President Abdelaziz Bouteflika (C, in a wheelchair) waving as he leaves after voting in the presidential elections in Algiers, on April 17, 2014  (AP Photo/Sidali Djarboub, File)

President Abdelaziz Bouteflika (C, in a wheelchair) waving as he leaves after voting in the presidential elections in Algiers, on April 17, 2014 (AP Photo/Sidali Djarboub, File)

Algiers, Asharq Al-Awsat—Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika made a rare public appearance on Saturday, leaving the Presidential Palace in Algiers for the first time in almost four months to attend celebrations marking the 60th anniversary of the start of Algeria’s War of Independence.

Bouteflika, 77, a veteran of the conflict, currently suffers from paralysis to one side of his body following a stroke he suffered in April 2013, and must now use a wheelchair.

During the ceremony at the iconic El-Alia Cemetary in Algiers, Bouteflika was seen being pushed very slowly on his wheelchair by one of his bodyguards toward the central memorial plaque commemorating the martyrs of the war.

With visible difficulty, the president laid flowers at the memorial, before greeting dignitaries and members of the country’s military and political establishment. The president shook hands with other officials attending the ceremony, eschewing the usual Arab greeting at formal occasions, which involves exchanging kisses on both cheeks.

Some of those in attendance included Abdelkader Bensalah, president of the upper house of parliament—who according to Algeria’s constitution is the second-most powerful man in the country after the president—as well as Mohamed Elarabi Walad Khalifa, the speaker of the lower house of parliament, Minister of Interior Eltayeb Belize, and Foreign Minister Ramadan Lemara, among others.

Bouteflika was last seen in public on July 5 during celebrations marking the 52nd anniversary of Algeria’s independence from France. This followed another long absence from the public eye after attending his swearing-in ceremony on April 28, after he secured a fourth term in office with an 81.53-percent landslide victory in elections earlier that month.

The president’s health has been a topic of debate both in Algeria and abroad since his return to the country in July 2013, following an 80-day stay in France for medical treatment.

The president’s public appearances have been pared down drastically since his return. According to reports, Bouteflika rarely leaves the Presidential Palace in western Algiers except for state occasions, and receives ministers and foreign dignitaries there.

A number of opposition parties in the country have called on Bouteflika to leave office, saying he is unable to fulfill his duties to the full due to his the state of his health. Bouteflika’s own ruling National Liberation Front insists on the other hand that his resounding election victory earlier in the year gives the president a clear mandate to remain at the helm for the next five years.