Prime Minister Ariel Sharon marked his 78th birthday Sunday in a coma in Jerusalem's Hadassah Hospital.

Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who took office after Sharon suffered a stroke Jan. 4, opened Sunday's Cabinet meeting with a birthday wish.

"Today is the birthday of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. We all pray for his health and wish for his speedy recovery," Olmert said.

Israeli newspapers noted Sharon's birthday, quoting associates as saying it is a "very sad birthday."

Sharon has been unconscious since suffering the stroke. He remains in critical but stable condition. His doctors have said that with each passing day, his chances of recovery are slimmer.

Despite Sharon's absence, the centrist party he founded, Kadima, is expected to win a March 28 election with Olmert at the helm.