Algeria's Bouteflika in Paris medical checkup
PARIS, Apr 20: Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika underwent medical checks in a top French military hospital today.
''The Algerian president has been admitted to the Val de Grace hospital for a medical check-up,'' a French diplomatic source said after the defence and foreign ministries had initially declined to comment on his presence.
Val de Grace in southern Paris is the hospital where the 69-year-old leader was operated on for a haemorrhagic stomach ulcer in December.
The secrecy surrounding Bouteflika's visit bore similarities to the handling of his admission to hospital in November, when officials at first said he was in France for a check up after suffering problems with his digestive system.
Nine days later the official APS news agency announced the head of the oil-rich North African state had successfully come through stomach ulcer surgery.
Algerian Minister of State Abdelaziz Belkhadem, who has the title of the president's personal representative in the government, sought to cool fresh speculation over his health.
''I want to calm things and say that it is just a routine check-up and anybody who had surgery should go through that process.
I want to say also that the president is in very good health,'' Belkhadem told Reuters.
An official Algerian communique said Bouteflika arrived in France on April 19 and that his trip had been long planned.
Bouteflika's trip to Paris follows fresh strains in the often uneasy relationship between Algeria and its former colonial ruler.
On Monday, a week after a visit by French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy, Boutelfika said in a speech France had committed ''genocide'' during its rule.
''This wasn't only a genocide against the Algerian people but also a genocide against Algerian identity,'' he said.
He has made such comments before but his decision to hit out at France's record in Algeria so soon after Douste-Blazy's visit was widely seen as a pointed rebuff to Paris. Far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen said he was outraged that Bouteflika should accuse France of genocide one day and then accept medical help.
''I don't understand very well what this gentlemen is doing coming for treatment by the terrible colonialists that we are,'' Le Pen told RMC radio.
Lionnel Lucas, a deputy from the ruling UMP party, branded the visit ''indecent'', adding it was not the first time the Algerian leader had insulted France.
During Douste-Blazy's trip officials of both countries said they were willing to sign a delayed friendship treaty but they needed more time to strike the deal.
France is the largest supplier of Algeria's imports and the two nations were initially due to sign the accord, similar to the 1963 Franco-German reconciliation treaty, at the end of last year to end tension that followed 132 years of occupation.
But France's National Assembly approved in February 2005 a law referring to the ''positive role of the French presence overseas, especially in North Africa'', a move seen by Algiers as a hurdle on the way to normalisation with Paris.
The disputed legal move was recently repealed by French President Jacques Chirac, but the decision did not help defuse the crisis between the two countries.
Algeria last year called on France to apologise for crimes committed during the colonial era. Bouteflika also urged Paris to admit its part in the massacres of 45,000 Algerians who took to the streets to demand independence as Europe celebrated victory over Nazi Germany in 1945.
French authorities then responded by playing down the comments, urging ''mutual respect''.
The 1954-1962 war of independence cost the lives of 1.5 million Algerians, according to the Algiers government. Many French also perished.