Algeria's Bouteflika meets with Kerry, talks security

ALGIERS (Reuters) - Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika met with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Thursday, discussing better security cooperation in the Maghreb region in one of his longest appearances since a stroke a year ago.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (L) meets with Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika (R) in Zeralda, outside of Algiers, April 3, 2014. REUTERS/Jacquelyn Martin/Pool

The meeting was one of the few times the Algerian leader has been seen talking so openly in public since the illness that put him in a Paris hospital for months and raised questions about his bid for re-election this month.

The images broadcast by state television showed Bouteflika standing to greet Kerry and discussing through an interpreter how to improve cooperation between the two countries who are allies in the fight against Islamist militancy.

In the clip, only a part of the meeting, Bouteflika exchanged greetings and joked in French with Kerry about the U.S. official winning a Nobel prize. He also asked about getting more electronic intelligence sharing from Washington.

“You have technology, you have intelligence that we do not have,” Bouteflika says in a soft voice though the translator. “What we would like to have is the intelligence in real time ... in the Sahara, in the Sahel region.”

Earlier the Algerian leader was also seen on state television discussing matters with the Qatari emir, who was visiting Algiers on Thursday.

The state of the 77-year-old Algerian leader’s health has been in question especially since he announced he would run for a fourth term in April’s ballot after 15 years governing the North African oil producer.

Western governments will be watching for any potential transition in Algeria, which is a major supplier of gas to Europe and a key partner in the campaign against Islamist militancy in North Africa.

With the backing of the ruling National Liberation Front party or FLN, which has dominated Algerian politics since its 1962 independence, Bouteflika looks almost certain to win another term in office even if he is not campaigning himself.

His supporters see Bouteflika as the guarantor of stability. Algeria’s 1990s war with Islamist fighters has left many wary of the turmoil facing neighbors Tunisia, Libya and Egypt, after they ousted leaders in the 2011 Arab Spring revolts.

But Bouteflika’s long absences and questions over his health have raised doubts about what will happen during his next five years in power if he wins, and what happens if he can no longer continue in office.

Opposition parties, which are boycotting the election, dismiss Bouteflika’s bid as a way to keep in power the old guard of FLN party elites and army generals who they say have ruled Algeria behind the scenes for decades and stifle any real reforms.

Editing by Eric Walsh