Bouteflika unable to receive Saudi crown prince due to flu: presidency

ALGIERS (Reuters) - Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika was unable to receive the Saudi crown prince during his visit as planned due to acute flu, the Algerian presidency said on Monday.

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

The Saudi heir, Mohammed bin Salman, had arrived late on Sunday for a two-day visit to Algeria. He wished Bouteflika a speedy recovery, the presidency said in statement carried by the official APS news agency.

The cancellation of the meeting is likely to fuel speculation over whether Bouteflika will run for a fifth next in presidential elections next year.

Bouteflika, in office since 1999, has rarely appeared in public since suffering a stroke in 2013 which has bound him to a wheelchair. His last meeting with a senior foreign official was during a visit by German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Sept. 17. An earlier meeting with Merkel and a meeting with Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte were canceled earlier this year.

The ruling party and trade unions have urged Bouteflika to run again, but intellectuals and the opposition have said his health makes him unfit for another term.

The Saudi heir met Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia, who had also received him at the airport.

Prince Mohammed was visiting Algeria as part of a tour of Arab countries he has resumed after attending the G20 summit in Argentina on the weekend.

The crown prince is on his first trip abroad since the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, which has strained Saudi Arabia’s ties with the West and battered the prince’s image abroad.

Saudi Arabia has said the prince had no prior knowledge of the murder. After offering numerous contradictory explanations, Riyadh said last month that Khashoggi had been killed and his body dismembered when negotiations to persuade him to return to Saudi Arabia failed.

So far during Prince Mohammed’s tour of Arab states there has been little or no sign of discontent with his leadership of Saudi Arabia, with the exception of Tunisia, one of the few Arab democracies, where there were demonstrations against him.

In Algeria, opposition newspaper Liberte published rare criticism, running a cartoon showing a ghost telling the prince: “This is Bouteflika”. The anxious heir responded: “You frightened me. I had thought this was Khashoggi.”

Reporting by Lamine Chikhi; Writing by Ulf Laessing; Editing by Alison Williams and Peter Graff