Algeria appoints new government amid worst political crisis in decades

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ALGIERS (Reuters) – Algeria appointed a new government on Thursday, as the country faces its biggest political crisis in decades and a raft of economic problems caused by falling energy revenues.

A demonstrator’s shadow is cast on a national flag during an anti-government rally in Algiers, Algeria December 24, 2019. REUTERS/Ramzi Boudina/File Photo

President Abdelmadjid Tebboune was elected last month and appointed Abdelaziz Djerad as prime minister on Saturday. They have kept several important posts unchanged, seemingly signalling continuity in major state policies.

Abderrahmane Raouia was re-appointed finance minister, after previously serving in that post from 2017 until last March, when he was replaced. As is usual in Algeria, Tebboune will act as defence minister.

Mass protests that broke out in February succeeded in unseating veteran president Abdelaziz Bouteflika in April. An election to replace him was postponed twice as protesters said it would be illegitimate while the ruling elite stayed in place.

Tebboune was elected last month in a vote that the protest movement rejected, winning 58% on a turnout officially registered as 40%.

He has offered dialogue with the protesters but the leaderless movement has continued to stage demonstrations since his election.

Algeria, a major energy exporter, depends on its oil and gas sales for 60% of government revenue. However, sales have fallen since oil prices began to drop in 2014 and Algeria’s foreign currency reserves have more than halved since then.

A state budget agreed by the interim government and parliament late last year included new laws aimed at increasing foreign investment but pledged 9% cuts in public spending.

The interim government appointed a new head of state energy producer Sonatrach, Kamel Edine Chikhi, and a new central bank governor, Benabderahmane Ayman, in November.

The parliament also approved a new energy law that would make international investment in oil and gas more attractive in order to arrest declining output, while still keeping a bar on majority foreign ownership of projects in the sector.

Foreign Minister Sabri Boukadoum, Energy Minister Mohamed Arkab and Interior Minister Kamel Beldjoud continue in their posts.

The position of deputy defence minister, traditionally an important role in a country where the top generals have held great political power, has not yet been filled. It was held by Gaed Salah until his death of a heart attack at age 79 last week.

Reporting By Lamine Chikhi; Writing by Angus McDowall; Editing by Giles Elgood and Jonathan Oatis

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