(Adds final statement from MPLA)
By Stephen Eisenhammer
LUANDA, March 16 (Reuters) - Angola's ruling MPLA party said on Friday it would discuss next month when to appoint a new leader, potentially undermining party chief and former president Jose Eduardo dos Santos who hours earlier said he might stay on until next year.
Dos Santos handpicked Angola's new president, João Lourenço, to succeed him when he stepped down last September after ruling for 38 years, but held onto his position as head of the party, creating two centres of power in the oil-producing nation.
Since then dos Santos has been under increasing pressure to give up the presidency of the People's Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) that has governed Angola continuously since independence from Portugal in 1975.
State radio said many in the MPLA leadership had taken issue with dos Santos' intervention at Friday's meeting of the central committee when, in a rare public statement, he told the party it should wait until December or April 2019 to replace him.
Consensus is building within the inner circle of the MPLA that a new party leader should be appointed as early as June, the radio reported.
In a statement published at the end of the meeting, the MPLA said the decision to discuss the issue in April had as "its only goal the strengthening of the MPLA and the reinforcement of its internal cohesion".
Lourenço has moved against some of dos Santos' old allies and has removed family members from key positions, including his daughter Isabel from the chair of state oil company Sonangol and José Filomeno from the sovereign wealth fund.
Party stalwarts have also come out to say they intended to ensure dos Santos sticks to previous assurances that he would leave "active political life" in 2018.
After a flurry of rumours on social media suggesting Friday's central committee meeting could see a date for his removal forced upon him, dos Santos moved pre-emptively to set his own timeline.
"I recommend that it would be most prudent that the party's extraordinary congress which will resolve the question of the leadership of the MPLA be in December 2018 or April 2019," he told the central committee at the opening of the meeting.
As head of the party, dos Santos, 75, remains hugely powerful, with influence over the way lawmakers vote in parliament and on party policy proposals, but relations with Lourenço have broken down.
"I understand that the relationship... has deteriorated since late 2017 and that they are no longer in communication with each other," said Alex Vines, head of the Africa Programme at London's Chatham House.
"A transition of power after almost 38 years was never going to be simple or smooth, and the tug-of-war over the MPLA presidency is a reminder that this transition is still in its infancy," Vines said. (Reporting by Stephen Eisenhammer Editing by James Macharia and Gareth Jones)