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Fri 4 Apr 2014 02:44 PM

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Kerry says US wants to boost Algeria in Al Qaeda fight

Algeria wants more US electronic intelligence sharing

Kerry says US wants to boost Algeria in Al Qaeda fight

US Secretary of State John Kerry said on Thursday
Washington was looking to increase its security assistance to Algeria to help
it tackle militancy in the vast Sahel region to its south, home to one of the
world's most active branches of al Qaeda.

Algeria, a major gas supplier to Europe, is already
a key partner in Washington's campaign against Islamist fighters who have tried
to spread across the Maghreb after the French military drove them out of Mali
last year.

Kerry was originally scheduled to visit Algeria
late last year but arrived just weeks before President Abdelaziz Bouteflika
runs for re-election in a vote in which he is widely expected to win a fourth
term.

"We really want to work in a cooperative way,
and we want to do this so that Algerian security services have the tools and
the training needed in order to defeat Al Qaeda and other terrorist
groups," Kerry told a news conference.

Algeria's Foreign Minister Ramtane Lamamra said the
United States should give the region more access to its intelligence.

"What the US can do, because nobody else can
do it, is for instance, share electronic intelligence with the armed forces and
security agencies in the region. This is a qualitative edge that only the US
can provide," he said.

Neighbouring Libya is struggling to curb the
turmoil that has continued unabated since the 2011 revolt against Muammar
Gaddafi. Islamist fighters have exploited the chaos, taking shelter in Libya's
southern deserts but also in remote mountains in Tunisia.

Attacks in Algeria are rare since the country ended
an 11-year conflict with Islamists in 2002, but the risks are still high. Last
year, Al Qaeda fighters raided a gas plant in the Algerian southern desert,
killing 40 oil workers, all but one of whom were foreigners.

Kerry also said the United States would do more to
build stronger commercial and investment ties between the countries. He said
large-scale youth unemployment in Algeria was troubling and greater investment
would help bolster job creation.

Kerry was due to meet later on Thursday with
Bouteflika, the 77-year-old independence veteran who has governed Algeria for
15 years since helping to end the North African state's war which killed around
200,000 people.

Bouteflika is expected to easily win another
five-year term after 15 years in power in the vote on April 17, despite
concerns over his health since suffering a stroke last year.

Some in the Algerian opposition described the
timing of Kerry's visit as odd and as an indirect statement of support to
Bouteflika's election bid.

Backed by the Front de Liberation Nationale (FLN)
party, which has dominated Algerian politics since independence in 1962, and with
major opposition parties weak, split or boycotting the vote, Bouteflika is
almost assured of a win.

Bouteflika's opponents say the dominance of a clan
of FLN veterans and army generals make the election an unfair battle, and they
ask how the president will govern if he cannot even campaign due to his
condition.

Since the stroke that put him in Paris hospital for
several months at the start of last year, Bouteflika has rarely appeared and
has spoken in public only to announce his candidacy last month.

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