NICOSIA (Reuters) - Cyprus's Health Minister Stavros Malas said he would resign on Friday to contest presidential elections in February as an independent backed by the ruling communist party, AKEL.
Cypriot President Demetris Christofias, elected in 2008, is not seeking re-election, a first for an incumbent president since Cyprus became independent in 1960.
His term has been marked by an economy reeling from its banks' heavy exposure to Greece, the highest levels of unemployment in decades and the island's worst peacetime disaster when a cache of confiscated munitions accidentally exploded destroying Cyprus's largest power station in July 2011.
"I intend to submit my resignation in writing today to the President, and depart from the Health Ministry on October 15," Malas, 46, told reporters.
AKEL, which Christofias once led and still holds considerable sway over, announced it would back Malas soon after Christofias announced he would not seek a second term.
Cyprus, one of the smallest nations in the euro zone and the holder of the EU's rotating six-month presidency, sought financial aid from its EU partners and the IMF in June, when it could no longer borrow from international markets.
Malas's primary challengers are Nicos Anastassiades, head of the opposition right-wing Democratic Rally which is ahead in opinion polls, and George Lillikas, a former foreign minister in a previous administration running as an independent.
(Reporting by Michele Kambas; Editing by Louise Ireland)