ALGIERS (AFP) — Algeria on Monday brought back twice former premier Ahmed Ouyahia to be its new prime minister, replacing Abdelaziz Belkhadem at the head of a mini-reshuffle, a presidential statement said.
Career diplomat Ouyahia, 56, previously led the Algiers government from 1996 to 1998 and 2003 to 2006, and crept back to prominence in April when he attended an India-Africa summit, a UN and African Union joint security council meeting and United Nations trade talks.
Belkhadem, meanwhile, was named the new "personal representative" of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, while three members of his cabinet are also leaving under the government reshuffle.
"We are going to continue to apply the policy programme of the president of the republic," Ouyahia told reporters after the announcement was made.
Bouteflika won a second five-year presidential mandate in 2004 on a promise to invest 150 billion dollars (just under 100 billion euros) in the country's infrastructure, opening up important sectors to foreign investors.
The appointment comes at a time when booming oil prices are expected to generate an 80 billion dollar 2008 bounty. Practically bankrupt throughout the 1990s, Algeria's external debt has been slashed from 16 billion dollars in 2006 to just 600 million dollars today.
Ouyahia is also expected to introduce constitutional reform legislation allowing Bouteflika to run for a third term in 2009, while spearheading attempts to contain hardline Islamic extremist sentiment.
Both Ouyahia and Belkhadem hold senior party posts within Bouteflika's presidential alliance, and they have previously clashed over public sector pay and constitutional reform.
Ouyahia is secretary general of the National Democratic Rally (RND), one of the parties in the governing coalition, which also includes the dominant National Liberation Front (FNL) led by Belkhadem and the Islamist Movement of a Peaceful Society (MSP).
Ouyahia resigned as prime minister in May 2006 in the face of repeated strikes by teachers, vets, doctors, and other workers fearing job losses through privatisation of services.
He had come out against a general salary increase proposed by unions and supported by Belkhadem's FNL.
Over the past two years, he has concentrated his efforts on re-launching the RND on the ground.
One of Belkhadem's last acts in the job was to sign agreements at the weekend with French Prime Minister Francois Fillon on civil nuclear energy and defence partnerships.
The three other cabinet figures exiting the government are: Mohamed Maghlaoui, replaced by Amar Tou at the transport ministry; Boudjemaa Haichour, replaced by Hamid Bessallah, the only new member of the team at the postal, IT and communication ministry; and Fatiha Mentouri, whose post of junior finance minister charged with public sector reform is not being filled.
Otherwise, the reshuffle sees familiar faces switch ministries and roles.
Algiers has also accepted the nomination of David D. Pearce to replace Robert Stephen Ford as United States ambassador to the major oil producer, its foreign ministry said.
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