Mystery over absence of Algeria leader treated for COVID-19

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Abdelmadjid Tebboune

FILE – In this Thursday, Dec. 19, 2019 file photo, Algerian president Abdelmadjid Tebboune delivers a speech during an inauguration ceremony in the presidential palace, in Algiers, Algeria. Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune marks a year in office Saturday but he is nowhere in sight since his evacuation to Germany more than six weeks ago for treatment of COVID-19. (AP Photo/Toufik Doudou, FILE)

ALGIERS, Algeria (AP) — Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune marks a year in office Saturday but he is nowhere in sight since his evacuation to Germany more than six weeks ago for treatment of COVID-19.

The president’s office issued a statement on Nov. 30 saying Tebboune had left a “specialized” medical facility, was continuing his convalescence and should be returning home “in the coming days.”

The statement compounded the growing mystery surrounding the 75-year-old Tebboune, his whereabouts and his health. The clinic where he was treated was never made public.

The absence of the head of state, who also serves as defense chief, recalled the long absences of his predecessor, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, for treatment in France of a stroke in 2013 and later in Switzerland for numerous medical check-ups, with lots of speculation and little information on his whereabouts or health.

Bouteflika rarely appeared in public but kept ruling. He was forced to abandon his bid for a fifth term last year before being pushed from office under pressure from street protests and the powerful army.

Tebboune left for Germany Oct. 28.

“I sincerely expected him to give us a surprise by returning home today for the first anniversary of his election. It’s the ideal timing,” Hassiba Aoudia, a retired French teacher said Friday evening. She had been a member of Tebboune’s group of supporters when he was a candidate.

Prime Minister Abdelaziz Djerad has been in charge during Tebboune’s absence, conspicuous as the country struggles with an economy made worse by the coronavirus and a host of other issues.

Constitutional law professor Fatiha Benabou said there is no date limiting the time Tebboune can be away.

“Authorities have a large margin of maneuver,” she said. “But on a political level, the absence of the president, who embodies the essential powers, is obviously a problem.”

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