World Bulletin / News Desk
Ailing incumbent Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika was poised to win a fourth term in office on Friday, unofficial results showed.
Algerians cast their ballot Thursday in the country's presidential election, in which Bouteflika – along with five other candidates – were vying for the country's highest office.
Unofficial results showed that Bouteflika clinched more than 60 percent of the votes in Thursday's ballot.
Interior Minister Taieb Belaiz will announce the final vote results on Friday.
Vote counting in 590 municipalities where voting was extended for one more hour upon requests from local officials also started, according to Anadolu Agency reporters.
Algerians headed to the polls since the early hours of Thursday to vote in the elections, in which incumbent President Abdelaziz Bouteflika – along with five other candidates – were vying for the country's highest office.
Nearly 23 million Algerians were eligible to vote in the polls, monitored by more than 300 foreign observers from the Arab League, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, the African Union and the United Nations.
Bouteflika's camp claimed the independence veteran backed by the dominant National Liberation Front (FLN) party had succeeded in securing five more years at the helm of the North African OPEC state.
The 77-year-old Bouteflika, who has appeared in public only a few times since his stroke, earlier voted in Algiers while sitting in a wheelchair. He gave no statement and only briefly shook hands with supporters before leaving.
"Our candidate is the winner," Abdelaziz Belkhadem, Bouteflika's personal representative, told Reuters without giving any details. "Without any doubt, Bouteflika got a landslide victory."
Ali Benflis, Bouteflika's main rival in a field of opposition candidates struggling to challenge him, quickly rejected the election results because of fraud but did not cite any specific accusations.
"The vote has been marred by massive fraud," Benflis told a press conference late Thursday.
The former prime minister, the main rival to incumbent Abdelaziz Bouteflika for the top post, vowed that he "will not recognize the results of the election".
Algerian opposition figure Ali Belhadj was also arrested on Thursday while following up presidential polls capital Algiers, his office has announced.
Security forces stopped Belhadj's car and detained him "without any legal basis as he toured polling centers" in the capital, according to a statement by his office.
Belhadj is a former vice president of the Algerian Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) party, which was outlawed by the Algerian judiciary for "inciting violence" after performing unexpectedly well in the first round of the 1992 polls.
Algerian authorities have yet to comment on Belhadj's reported arrest.
The FIS had announced plans to boycott Thursday's poll, arguing that the balloting would be rigged in favor of incumbent President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, 77, who is currently running for a fourth term in office.
Voting passed mostly peacefully, but in two villages east of Algiers, gendarmerie troops fired tear gas and clashed with youths who tried to disrupt voting, local officials said.
Several ballot boxes were burned in the area, which is a stronghold of an opposition party boycotting the election and also a mostly ethnic Berber-speaking region that sees sporadic clashes with authorities.
Police on Wednesday broke up a small rally by an anti-government movement called "Barakat", or "Enough", which is calling for peaceful change with rare public protests.
Since the stroke that put him in a Paris hospital for three months, Bouteflika has appeared only a few times in public, usually when speaking with visiting dignitaries. He did not campaign, though allies say he is well enough to govern.
Opposition leaders say it is time for him to make good on promises to hand over to a new generation of leaders, tackle corruption and open up an economy hampered by restrictions dating back to Algeria's post-independence socialism.
Many Algerians say that since independence, their politics has been controlled by a cabal of FLN elites and army generals who, while competing behind the scenes for influence, see themselves as guarantors of stability.
Bouteflika's allies have tried to strengthen his position by reducing the influence of the powerful military intelligence chief, who for years played the role of kingmaker.
Still, analysts say, political rivalries may resurface if Bouteflika's health ebbs during a fourth term.
His allies are promising constitutional amendments to open up a system that critics say has resisted reform since the old guard of FLN chieftains won independence from France.
But many younger Algerians say they feel disconnected with their country's political leadership.Last Mod: 19 Nisan 2014, 09:19