Algeria's ex-leader hints at need for president not to run again for health reasons

Algeria's former president issued a big hint Thursday that he thinks the ailing incumbent should withdraw from upcoming elections in April because of his failing health.

Liamine Zeroual, a former general who led the country from 1995 to 1998 in the midst of its bloody civil war against the Islamists, is a respected figure in this oil-rich North African country of 38 million.

In a statement, he described the presidency as "a heavy and delicate task, both moral and physical" — an allusion to President Abdelaziz Bouteflika's poor state of health.

He also criticized the 2008 decision to remove term limits from the presidency that allowed Bouteflika to run again.

The 77-year-old president suffered a stroke last year that has left him partially paralyzed and with difficulty talking, yet he has gone ahead with plans to run for a fourth term in the April 17 elections.

On Tuesday, his political advisor Abdelaziz Belkhadem said that while the president's legs are now paralyzed, "he is lucid and in possession of his intellectual capacities, allowing him to take decisions."

With the backing of the powerful ruling party and the machinery of the state, Bouteflika is expected to win.

Algeria is a key Western ally in the fight against terrorism.

There have been small demonstrations all over the country against Bouteflika's fourth term, but most have been swiftly crushed by security forces.