Algerian president dismisses main adviser Belkhaddem, once seen as potential successor

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ALGIERS, Algeria — Algeria's president on Tuesday dismissed one of his main advisers — a former prime minister and powerful head of the ruling party — and banned him from state service.

The announcement came without any explanation about why Abdelaziz Belkhaddem had been stripped of his job as minister of state and special counselor to the presidency, but it suggests a major realignment in the murky world of Algerian politics.

Belkhaddem had been a major ally of the ailing President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, serving as his prime minister and the secretary general of the governing party, and he was appointed a special adviser for the Algerian election that was held in April.

Though ostensibly a democracy, Algeria is ruled by the president, a few generals and certain party leaders that share power uneasily.

Belkhaddem's fall from grace is quite dramatic since he was once seen as a possible successor to the 75-year-old president and now has been ejected from the National Liberation Front, known by its French initials, FLN.

"The president appoints and dismisses — those are his prerogatives — but my responsibility as an activist of the FLN depends on me only," Belkhaddem told The Associated Press when contacted about the announcement.

On Monday he participated in a conference that featured several of the president's rivals and involved harsh criticism of the system.

Though re-elected with 80 percent of the vote in April for a fourth term, Bouteflika is frail and rarely seen in public. The matter of his succession has been the main topic of political conversation.

Algeria has been a key U.S. ally in the fight against terrorism and a regional powerhouse, but its political system has stagnated with Bouteflika remaining in charge for the past 15 years.

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