Merkel's Algeria visit canceled because president falls ill

AP News
Posted: Feb 20, 2017 12:02 PM
Merkel's Algeria visit canceled because president falls ill

ALGIERS, Algeria (AP) — An attack of severe bronchitis suffered by long-ailing Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika forced his country to call off a visit by German Chancellor Angela Merkel at the last minute on Monday.

The surprise cancellation was announced just an hour before Merkel's plane was due to take off from Berlin, and as German flags already lined the Algiers airport for her arrival.

Merkel's spokesman, Steffen Seibert, said "the Algerian government asked at short notice for the trip to be delayed. The chancellor complied with this wish."

Algeria's APS state news agency, citing a presidential statement, said Bouteflika's "temporary unavailability" was due to severe bronchitis. Bouteflika, 79, has rarely been seen in public since a 2013 stroke that left him confined to a wheelchair.

The two leaders had been scheduled to meet only briefly on Tuesday, shortly before Merkel's departure for home. Algerian Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal was to have been Merkel's main government interlocutor and host during the two-day visit that had been scheduled to start Monday evening.

Both sides had seen it as an important visit. Merkel wants better cooperation in limiting migration from Africa to Europe and the extremist violence that has hit Europe, such as the December attack on Berlin by a Tunisian migrant claimed by the Islamic State group.