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Top Algerian politician resigns as party head

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KARIM KEBIR | January 5, 2013 07:49 AM EST | AP

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ALGIERS, Algeria — One of Algeria's most prominent politicians has resigned his post as the head of his political party in the latest political maneuverings ahead of next year's key presidential elections.

Ahmed Ouyahia, who was once considered a front-runner for the country's top post because of his backing by this oil-rich nation's powerful generals, announced Thursday his resignation as secretary general of the National Democratic Rally.

"My resignation is not in service of a personal agenda, but rather its sole motive is to preserve the unity of our party," he said in his message. For much of the past year, several major figures in the party have been pushing for Ouyahia to step down.

Algeria regularly holds presidential and parliamentary elections, but true power is believed to be held by a shadowy collection of generals working behind the scenes.

The pro-democracy uprisings of the Arab Spring largely passed Algeria by leaving the political structure of this North African nation of 35 million intact.

President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, in power since 1999, announced he would not run for a fourth term next year, leaving the race for the presidency wide open.

In November, several other rumored front-runners for the post were implicated in widely publicized corruption scandals.

Political analyst Ahmed Adimi of Algiers University, said Ouyahia was pushed out of power by the generals to clear the way for new faces ahead of elections to give the country's politics some semblance of change amid popular discontent.

"The powers that be need stability in the parties of the ruling coalition but with new personalities at their head," he said. "Ouyahia's mission is over."

On Friday, the Algerian daily El-Khabar, reputed for its close contacts to security services, suggested that Ouyahia was pushed out because of his barely concealed presidential ambitions.

Ouyahia represented Algeria in the U.N. Security Council in the 1990s before taking control of the National Democratic Rally in 1999 soon after it was formed.

He was prime minister from 2003 to 2006 and again from 2008 to 2012 and was often seen as a rival to the president.