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article imageSwiss court receives petition to protect Bouteflika from entourage

By Nina LARSON (AFP)     Mar 9, 2019 in World

A lawyer acting on behalf of an unnamed Algerian citizen has filed a petition with a Swiss court requesting that Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, in Switzerland for medical treatment, be placed under a trusteeship for his own protection.

The petition came as tens of thousands of people protested in Algeria against the 82-year-old ailing leader's bid to secure a fifth term in the country's April 18 elections.

It was unclear whether the court would admit the case, or whether the petition, received Friday, had any chance of garnering support.

Saskia Ditisheim, who is president of the Swiss division of Lawyers without Borders but did not file the petition in the organisation's name, said in the document that Bouteflika's "fragile health" left him vulnerable to "exploitation" by those around him.

The TPAE court she sent the document to specialises in the protection of vulnerable adults and children.

"It is obvious that the Algerian president is today incapable of discernment, with a very precarious health condition and that all of his actions ... have not been carried out by him but by his political and familial entourage," said the document.

It was therefore clear that the Algerian leader had not himself decided to submit his candidacy for a fifth term.

He could also not have himself issued a statement this week that warned protestors in Algeria that troublemakers may try to infiltrate the demonstrations and create "chaos", according to the petition.

- Urgency? -

Under the Hague Convention, it would usually fall to Algerian legal authorities to determine if a citizen should be placed under trusteeship, according to Nicolas Jeandin, a Swiss lawyer and law professor at the University of Geneva.

But if the Swiss court deems there is an urgent need to protect a vulnerable individual, it could choose to weigh in, he told AFP, stressing that "the question is if there is urgency".

If so, in theory at least, "the Swiss judge should disregard the political backdrop ... and determine if this person needs assistance."

Bouteflika, in power since 1999, has rarely been seen in public since suffering a stroke in 2013.

He has been in Switzerland for nearly two weeks receiving what his office has called routine medical checkups.

Bouteflika's campaign manager Abdelghani Zaalane insisted Thursday that the president's health raised "no worries".

Ditisheim said her client had already requested that the University Hospitals of Geneva (HUG) release Bouteflika's medical records to determine his actual condition, maintaining it was of public interest to Algerians.

While the medical records remain closed, the petition points to press reports indicating that Bouteflika's condition was "very precarious" and "life-threatening", and also questioned his mental capacities.

The petition called on the court to name one or several trustees to look out for Bouteflika's wellbeing.

It also asked the court to lift the medical secrecy around his condition, and to authorise the medical staff at HUG to issue a certificate pertaining to his health condition and aptitude to govern.

The petition also demands that any statements made in Bouteflika's name first receive trustee approval.

And it said the trustee or trustees should be authorised to take any necessary measures to protect the Algerian president's interests.

An emergency request to place someone under trusteeship can often be ruled on in a matter of days.

But in this case, the judge might want to mull it over a bit longer and would also likely request a medical expertise before ruling on the matter, Jeandin said.

Ditisheim meanwhile acknowledged the sensitivity of the case and said the court might try to stall until Bouteflika is flown back to Algeria.

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