Algeria chooses new prime minister
By AOMAR OUALI, Associated Press, 24 june 2008
ALGIERS, Algeria (AP) — Algeria’s president on Monday named Ahmed Ouyahia, a pragmatist known for his tough line against Islamic extremists, as the North African country’s prime minister — his third stint in the post.
The office of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika announced the changes as part of a Cabinet reshuffle, with outgoing Premier Abdelaziz Belkhadem returning to his previous post as the president’s « personal representative. »
The shake-up, which included changes at the head of the transport, communication and financial reform ministries, comes as the natural gas-rich country has been unsettled by a recent resurgence in extremist violence, even as state coffers have swelled, thanks to soaring fossil fuel prices.
In Algeria, the president is top ranking official, but the prime minister handles the day-to-day running of the government, including overseeing the Cabinet.
One of Ouyahia’s first big tasks is likely to be constitutional reform, which Algeria’s feisty print media have reported will be taken up sometime next month. Speculation has been widespread in Algerian newspapers about whether Bouteflika will seek to modify the constitution so that he can run for a third term in presidential elections planned for next year.
Ouyahia, 56, heads one of three parties in the governing coalition. He served as premier from 1996 to 1998 and from 2003 to 2006. Belkhadem, often his rival, took over after Ouyahia resigned in May 2006 in the midst of months of political pressure.
Algeria has battled an Islamic insurgency for years, but the number of attacks has risen dramatically since the country’s main militant group vowed allegiance to al-Qaida in 2006.
Most of the recent bombings have been claimed by al-Qaida in Islamic North Africa, formerly known as the GSPC — a Salafist group that grew out of an insurgency that raged in the country in the 1990s.
Ouyahia has been known in the past for a cut-and-dry stance against Islamic militants, but he also was charged with setting up a policy of national reconciliation voted in a September 2005 referendum.
Associated Press Writer Alfred de Montesquiou in Algiers contributed to this report.