Ailing Bouteflika returns to Paris hospital

Ageing Bouteflika will stand for a fourth term

ALGIERS - Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika has returned to the Paris hospital where he was treated for a mini-stroke last year, his office said Tuesday, ahead of an April election his party hopes he will contest.
"Bouteflika has been at the Val-de-Grace hospital since Monday for a routine medical check-up," his office said in a statement quoted by Algerian media, adding that his general condition was improving "surely" and "steadily."
The statement was at pains to emphasise that the visit gave no new cause for concern about the 76-year-old president, who has ruled Algeria since 1999 and whose health has been a constant source of speculation in Algeria in recent years, particularly ahead of the April presidential election.
The check-up will last from Monday to Friday, the president's office said, adding that no "emergency procedure has dictated this planned trip."
Algeria's head of state was rushed to the Val-de-Grace hospital in April last year and subsequently moved to the Invalides National Institution, where he spent 80 days receiving treatment for what his doctors described as a mini-stroke.
A frail-looking Bouteflika returned to Algiers in a wheelchair in July, and has not been seen or heard in public since, fuelling speculation about his ability to rule, or contest the presidential poll.
But the ruling National Liberation Front (FLN) in November nominated the ageing president as its official candidate to stand for what would be his fourth term, although Bouteflika himself has not confirmed that he will run.
The FLN's secretary general Amar Saidani said on Sunday that he was "sure" he would.
On Tuesday morning, Algerian national media announced that, "barring force majeure", Bouteflika would convene the electoral body overseeing the presidential poll on Thursday and Friday.
The announcement must be made 90 days before the election and gives candidates 45 days to register.
A dozen people have already revealed their plans to run, but the political arena appears paralysed in the absence of any indications by the president about his own intentions.
Among those expected to confirm his candidacy in the coming days is former premier Ali Benflis, a popular figure who ran against the president in the 2004 election.
One of the few remaining veterans of the war of independence against France, Bouteflika came to power after helping to end the country's devastating civil war in the 1990s.
Amendments to the constitution in 2008 cleared the way for him to run indefinitely.
Since his treatment in Paris last year, Bouteflika appears to have gradually reasserted his control, notably with a wide-ranging cabinet reshuffle in September and the reported restructuring of the DRS military intelligence agency, which some consider the real power in Algeria.
The president has also received visiting Arab dignitaries, as well as the mayor of Paris and French premier Jean-Marc Ayrault, who said after their 45-minute meeting last month that he was "very surprised" by how Bouteflika was following developments in Algeria, describing him as "well-informed."
But in addition to health concerns in recent years, his rule has been dogged by corruption scandals implicating members of his inner circle.