OPEC Insiders Reel After Algeria Minister Fired

OPEC Insiders Reel After Algeria Minister FiredOPEC Insiders Reel After Algeria Minister Fired

As OPEC ministers gathered in Vienna Thursday to agree a nine-month extension of their oil-supply pact, the man credited with bringing about the landmark deal learned from a news broadcast that he had been fired.

The story broke as Algerian Energy Minister Noureddine Boutarfa attended a closed session with counterparts early Thursday afternoon. First came an unconfirmed report from an Algerian TV station, according to delegates who were present. More than an hour later, the nation’s official APS news agency confirmed it, Bloomberg reported.

It should have been a day of triumph for the man whose dogged diplomacy helped seal the historic alliance between producers of more than half the world’s oil, but the decision appears to have been far removed from events unfolding in Vienna.

A day earlier, Algeria’s prime minister had been ousted, prompting a cabinet reshuffle that included the appointment of Sonelgaz Chief Executive Officer Mustapha Guitouni as energy minister.

In the job less than a year, Boutarfa was widely expected to keep his post following parliamentary elections earlier this month.

“For Boutarfa, I can’t see any viable explanation,” said Nacer Djabi, a political analyst and sociology professor at the University of Algiers. “All the indications were that he hasn’t failed in his mission.” The abrupt dismissal showed “flagrant disregard” for his accomplishments, he said.

The decision came amid growing concern about political stability in Algeria, where the collapse of oil prices has put a strain on the economy. The country’s 80-year-old president, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, is suffering ill health and has no clear successor.

Boutarfa was caught unawares. As the news swirled around OPEC’s Vienna headquarters, where representatives of allies including Russia were arriving to finalize a broader deal, the minister and his delegation kept mum.

Once the official confirmation came, Boutarfa is said to have taken some of his peers aside and spoken to them personally. They in turn congratulated him for his achievement, officials said.

Representing one of OPEC’s smallest producers and coming from a country with little international clout, Boutarfa played a key role in a deal many had thought was unlikely.

Boutarfa “had a big role in getting all the countries together and making the collaboration a success,” Essam al-Marzouq, Kuwait’s oil minister, told Bloomberg News on Thursday.


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