Algeria’s President Abdelaziz Bouteflika made a rare public appearance on Thursday to inaugurate a conference centre, touring the site in a wheelchair.
Since suffering a stroke three years ago Bouteflika has dramatically reduced his public activity, leading Algeria’s opposition to question his ability to rule Africa’s biggest country, and to continuing speculation over the 79-year-old president’s health.
Presidential polls are not due until 2019, but Bouteflika’s opponents have called for early elections because of his physical frailty. Legislative elections are scheduled for the first half of 2017.
Analysts said Bouteflika’s appearance was designed to dampen demands for early presidential elections.
“An anticipated presidential election is not an option for now,” political analyst Arslan Chikhaoui told Reuters.
Bouteflika was last seen openly in public two years ago when he voted from his wheelchair in the ballot that saw him elected for a fourth five-year term.
His most recent previous appearance this year was for Algeria’s independence day celebrations on July 5, and he is usually only seen in brief state television videos greeting visiting dignitaries at his presidential residence.
Talk of transition comes at a sensitive time, as Algeria tries to cut spending and subsidies to offset a sharp drop in revenues from oil sales.
Algeria is a key supplier of gas to Europe and has positioned itself as an important Western ally in efforts to tackle Islamist militancy in North Africa and the Sahel.
First elected in 1999, Bouteflika led Algeria out of international isolation and a war with armed Islamists that left an estimated 200,000 people dead in the 1990s.
The conference centre that Bouteflika inaugurated, west of the capital Algiers, is to be used for a meeting of the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) from September 26 to 28.