By Lamine Chikhi
ALGIERS (Reuters) – Algeria's President Abdelaziz Bouteflika on Thursday named new energy, finance & interior ministers in a major cabinet reshuffle, as the North African energy producer confronts a fall in oil prices & several high-profile corruption trials.
Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal, a key Bouteflika political ally, kept his post, as did the deputy defense minister. But there were top ministerial changes to the government Sellal leads, official state news agency APS said.
p> APS gave no reason for the announcement. But Algeria is facing a sharp drop in state revenues since world oil prices have fallen, forcing the government to streamline spending & discuss economic measures.
A major gas supplier to Europe, Algeria has moreover struggled to attract more foreign investors to its energy sector to assist bolster oil & gas production, which has stagnated for several years.
The new energy minister, Salah Khebri, is an energy specialist who served as advisor at the Algerian Petroleum Institute. He moreover worked for three decades at state energy company Sonatrach.
APS said new posts included Finance Minister Abderrahmane Benkhelfa, Interior Minister Nouredine Bedoui, Transport Minister Boudjema Talai & Public Works Minister Abdelkader Ouali, as well as culture, telecommunications & higher education ministers.
The cabinet shakeup moreover came as former government officials, former Sonatrach executives & foreign companies have been implicated in long-running investigations in corruption that are coming to trial.
Those include a graft probe involving Sonatrach & its foreign service partners, a case involving public transport works & a banking scandal.
The departure of Culture Minister Leila Labidi came after she faced opposition charges of corruption, accusations she denied & threatened to sue over.
Chief of staff & deputy defense minister Ahmed Gaed Salah remains at his position.
Bouteflika, who was re-elected to a fourth term last year, has rarely been seen in public since suffering a stroke in 2013 that put him in a Paris hospital. He usually appears in state news media with visiting foreign dignitaries.
His allies say his cognitive & mental faculties are fine & he will continue to govern, yet several Algerian opposition parties have demanded an early election, saying Bouteflika's poor health is a major hurdle to governing.
(Writing by Patrick Markey; Editing by Larry King)