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Published: Monday January 20, 2014 MYT 5:50:01 AM
Updated: Monday January 20, 2014 MYT 5:50:54 AM

Former FLN party chief to run for Algerian presidency

ALGIERS (Reuters) - Ali Benflis, a former leader of Algeria's ruling FLN party, announced on Sunday he would run in the April 17 elections, in which President Abdelaziz Bouteflika has yet to say whether he will seek a fourth term.

Bouteflika returned home on Thursday from a visit to a Paris hospital for check-ups after suffering a stroke early last year.

Allies say his health is fine, but the check-up reignited speculation that the 76-year-old may not stand again after nearly a decade at the helm of the North African oil producer, an ally in Washington's fight against al Qaeda in the Maghreb.

Campaigning began last week.

Benflis, 70, who lost to Bouteflika in 2004, said he would focus on stamping out corruption in the OPEC member and reach out to a younger generation keen for change.

Speaking in an Algiers hotel, Benflis hit out at scandals in the Algerian establishment since 2013 involving officials including the former energy minister and others seen as Bouteflika's close allies.

"The problem is not just administrative corruption, but also political corruption, the one that guarantees impunity," he told reporters. "This country of youngsters should put its destiny in the hands of its youth."

Benflis, who was Bouteflika's premier in 2000, may have little chance to win if Bouteflika does run as the incumbent will be supported by ruling parties, unions and other key groupings.

Bouteflika's inner circle say he is the best guarantor of security and stability in Algeria, and that they are confident he will go for another five years. Critics say he has been too ill and should step aside for a younger generation.

Since independence from France in 1962, analysts say Algeria has been governed from behind the scenes by a cadre of older-generation FLN party chiefs and military veterans from that war known as the "Le Pouvoir" or "The Power".

Algeria is a key gas supplier to Europe and, with its neighbours Egypt and Libya deep in turmoil three years after "Arab Spring" revolts that ousted their long-term leaders, many countries hope above all that it can maintain stability.

Analysts say any transition is likely to be steady, with the "Pouvoir" keeping its power struggles under wraps and avoiding any turmoil that might threaten vested interests.

Despite its huge oil wealth, Algeria's economy needs reforms and liberalisation to attract more foreign investment after years of centralised state control and bureaucracy.

While most of its leaders belong to the generation that fought France from 1954 to 1962, statistics show that 70 percent of the population of 38 million are under 30.

(Editing by Patrick Markey and Kevin Liffey)

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