Algerian premier to quit to run Bouteflika election campaign: source

ALGIERS Wed Mar 12, 2014 4:15pm EDT

Algeria's Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal speaks during the opening ceremony of the African Conference on Green Economy in Oran February 22, 2014. REUTERS/Louafi Larbi

Algeria's Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal speaks during the opening ceremony of the African Conference on Green Economy in Oran February 22, 2014.

Credit: Reuters/Louafi Larbi

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ALGIERS (Reuters) - Algerian Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal will resign on Thursday to become campaign director for President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, the ageing independence leader who is running for re-election, a source close to the presidency said on Wednesday.

Bouteflika, 77, registered his candidacy for the April 17 vote last week, one of the few times he has spoken in public since suffering a stroke last year that has raised opposition questions about his ability to govern.

Sellal will be replaced as premier by Energy Minister Youcef Yousfi, the source told Reuters.

Backed by the National Liberation Front (FLN) party and the army, Bouteflika is almost assured five more years in power. But his rare appearances have generated doubts about his health and about what happens if he is too sick to rule.

Sellal himself was the first to announce Bouteflika would run again, but did little to ease questions about the president's health when he said he would not need to campaign himself because there were plenty who could do that for him.

Since independence from France in 1962, observers say Algeria has been run from behind the scenes by a group of powerful FLN veterans, business leaders and army generals who have tussled for influence in backroom negotiations.

Any political handover in the key North African energy producer would come a fragile time in the region, still overcoming the turmoil that followed the 2011 "Arab Spring" revolts that toppled long-standing rulers in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya.

(Reporting by Lamine Chikhi; writing by Patrick Markey; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

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