ALGIERS - Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, nearing the end of his second and final term, proposed on Monday an amendment to the constitution to remove a limit on the number of terms a president may serve.
The 71-year-old Bouteflika's second term ends in April 2009. He did not say whether he would seek re-election.
Analysts said they believed the move meant he would seek to extend his stay in office and opposition politicians called it a power grab likely to deepen the north African country's political and economic malaise.
"The amendment proposed to article 74 of the constitution maintains that the duration of the presidential mandate is five years and stipulates that the president of the republic can be re-elected," said an official statement that followed a cabinet meeting chaired by Bouteflika.
Article 74 currently says the president can be re-elected "only once", words dropped from the proposed amendment.
Opposition politicians said the proposed change aimed to allow Bouteflika, in power since 1999, to extend until 2014 his rule of the country of 34 million, a big exporter of energy to Europe.
Critics said a third term could destroy political pluralism and aggravate social tensions born of high youth unemployment, lack of housing and state domination of the economy.
Bouteflika's backers say a third term would allow the independence war veteran to continue a reconstruction plan to modernise Africa's third largest economy after years of violence in the 1990s in which more than 150,000 people were killed.
The draft text should be submitted to parliament for approval before the end of the month, government officials said.
The president's supporters overwhelmingly control both lower and upper houses of parliament.
The proposed revision to the constitution includes four other changes, including allowing the president to name one or several deputy prime ministers.