Algeria’s Bouteflika dismisses national police chief

FILE PHOTO: Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika is seen in Algiers, Algeria April 9, 2018. REUTERS/Ramzi Boudina/File Photo

ALGIERS (Reuters) - Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika dismissed national police chief Mustapha Lahbiri on Wednesday, the interior ministry said in a statement that gave no reason for the move.

Bouteflika had named Lahbiri to the post in June 2018, replacing Abdelghani Hamel, who had been in the post for eight years and was also fired without reasons provided.

Analysts and local media linked Hamel’s removal to the seizure of 701 kg of cocaine at the western port of Oran at the end of May, and the handling of the subsequent investigation.

The statement said Abdelkader Kara Bouhadja, hitherto director of the judicial police, would take over from Lahbiri.

Bouteflika said on Sunday he would seek a fifth term in a presidential election set for April 18, according to the state news agency APS, ending months of uncertainty caused by his poor health.

Bouteflika, 81, who has been in office since 1999 but has been seen in public only rarely since suffering a stroke in 2013 that confined him to a wheelchair, is likely to be re-elected as Algeria’s opposition remains weak and fragmented.

(Correct source in lead to interior ministry, not presidency.)

Reporting by Hamid Ould Ahmed; Editing by Mark Heinrich