ALGIERS (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will travel to Algeria in the next few weeks, two diplomatic sources told Reuters, a visit which would boost an Algerian government left exposed by the “Arab Spring” uprisings.
Algeria is the only north African state largely untouched by recent popular revolt in the region but its leaders face mounting internal pressure to embrace greater democracy before a parliamentary election scheduled for May this year.
A visit by the United States’ top diplomat is likely to represent a powerful endorsement for Abdelaziz Bouteflika, the 74-year-old president, helping him face down critics at home.
One of the diplomatic sources, who both spoke on condition of anonymity, said Clinton would visit Algeria in February.
A senior State Department official said about a possible Clinton trip to Algeria: “The secretary has made no decisions.”
Western governments have been critical of Algeria’s record on democracy and human rights, but they also see it as an important bulwark against the spread of al Qaeda in Africa.
Algeria has been fighting a two-decade insurgency against Islamist militants on its own soil. It is also coordinating efforts to crack down on al Qaeda in neighboring countries, especially in the Sahara desert.
Under pressure from the revolutions which overthrew entrenched leaders in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, Bouteflika last year enacted limited reforms.
He ordered the lifting of a 19-year-old state of emergency and promised to end state monopoly of television and media.
The authorities also transferred the task of supervising elections from the interior ministry to a commission of judges, and invited the European Union to send election monitors. But Algerian opposition groups say the reforms do not go far enough.
After talks in Washington last week with Algerian Foreign Minister Mourad Medelci, Clinton told reporters, “Algeria has undertaken very significant reforms, and we welcome those.”
“We want to see Algeria having a strong democratic foundation that reflects the aspirations of the Algerian people. We commend the government of Algeria’s recent efforts in that direction,” she said.
Additional reporting by Arshad Mohammed in Washington; Editing by Louise Ireland