May 14, 2015 / 1:19 PM / 4 years ago

Algeria's Bouteflika announces sweeping cabinet shakeup

ALGIERS (Reuters) - Algeria’s President Abdelaziz Bouteflika on Thursday named new energy, finance and interior ministers in a major cabinet reshuffle, as the North African energy producer confronts a fall in oil prices and several high-profile corruption trials.

President Abdelaziz Bouteflika looks on during a swearing-in ceremony in Algiers April 28, 2014. REUTERS/Ramzi Boudina

Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal, a key Bouteflika political ally, kept his post, as did the deputy defense minister. But there were top ministerial changes to the government Sellal leads, official state news agency APS said.

APS gave no reason for the announcement. But Algeria is facing a sharp drop in state revenues since world oil prices have fallen, forcing the government to streamline spending and discuss economic measures.

A major gas supplier to Europe, Algeria has also struggled to attract more foreign investors to its energy sector to help bolster oil and gas production, which has stagnated for several years.

The new energy minister, Salah Khebri, is an energy specialist who served as advisor at the Algerian Petroleum Institute. He also worked for three decades at state energy company Sonatrach.

APS said new posts included Finance Minister Abderrahmane Benkhelfa, Interior Minister Nouredine Bedoui, Transport Minister Boudjema Talai and Public Works Minister Abdelkader Ouali, as well as culture, telecommunications and higher education ministers.

The cabinet shakeup also came as former government officials, former Sonatrach executives and foreign companies have been implicated in long-running investigations in corruption that are coming to trial.

Those include a graft probe involving Sonatrach and its foreign service partners, a case involving public transport works and a banking scandal.

The departure of Culture Minister Leila Labidi came after she faced opposition charges of corruption, accusations she denied and threatened to sue over.

Chief of staff and deputy defense minister Ahmed Gaed Salah remains at his position.

Bouteflika, who was re-elected to a fourth term last year, has rarely been seen in public since suffering a stroke in 2013 that put him in a Paris hospital. He usually appears in state news media with visiting foreign dignitaries.

His allies say his cognitive and mental faculties are fine and he will continue to govern, but several Algerian opposition parties have demanded an early election, saying Bouteflika’s poor health is a major hurdle to governing.

Writing by Patrick Markey; Editing by Larry King

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