Bouteflika names his new government

Time of article published Jun 5, 2007

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Algiers - Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika appointed a new government on Monday, retaining Abdelaziz Belkhadem as prime minister and Chakib Khelil in the key energy portfolio, state television reported.

The most prominent change in a cabinet line-up with few surprises was the appointment of former finance minister Mourad Medelci as foreign minister and his replacement at finance by comparatively young central banker and technocrat Karim Djoudi.

The most widely watched Algerian portfolio overseas tends to be that of energy and mines in view of Algeria's growing importance as an oil and gas supplier to Europe and other markets around the world.

Khelil, 67, a former World Bank official, is an articulate spokesperson for Algeria inside the Opec club of oil exporting nations and an influential voice in the running of state energy giant Sonatrach, Africa's biggest company by revenue.

The appointment of a new government is traditional after parliamentary elections. Algeria's ruling coalition, led by Belkhadem's National Liberation Front (FLN), won a reduced majority on a low turnout in May 17 polls.

The vote was the third assembly election since an Islamist revolt erupted after the cancellation of polls in 1992 which a now-outlawed Muslim fundamentalist party was poised to win. Up to 200 000 people have been killed in violence since then.

The fighting has reduced dramatically in recent years, but sputters on.

A triple bombing claimed by al-Qaeda killed 33 people in Algiers on April 11. One police officer was killed when two small bombs exploded in the eastern city of Constantine on Wednesday.

The presidency is the most powerful office of state with the premier playing the role of coordinator between the executive and the legislative. Many in the north African country regard parliament as a weak institution.

A Bouteflika loyalist, Belkhadem, 61, is a moderate Islamist who says social stability is more important than economic growth and that his priority is to amend the constitution and raise salaries.

Belkhadem has proposed extending the length of the presidential mandate from five to seven years and abrogating a two-term limit. He has declared the constitution cumbersome and ill-adapted to the needs of a society emerging from an armed Islamic insurrection.

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