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Interior ministry claims high turnout of 74 percent

Video by Louis MASSIE

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2009-04-10

Algerians voted Thursday in a presidential election that saw Abdelaziz Bouteflika running for a third term and widely expected to win. Authorities claim turnout reached 74 percent despite opposition calls for a boycott.

Voting stations in Algeria’s foregone election closed on Thursday evening amid widespread expectations that incumbent President Abdelaziz Bouteflika will seal his third term in office.

 

73% of Algerian voters had cast their vote, Algeria’s interior ministry said at 10.30 pm (GMT+1). With opposition groups calling for a boycott, all eyes were on turnout figures.

 

Reporting from Algiers, FRANCE 24's Armen Georgian said: "On the face of it, turnout was higher than during the last presidential elections in 2004 which saw Bouteflika score just under 60 percent of the vote. But the big question here is whether the figures were inflated."

 

In an interview with FRANCE 24, the leader of the opposition movement Rally for Culture and Democracy (RCD), Dr Said Saadi, accused the authorities of having artificially-inflated turnout figures.

 

“Electoral frauds are routine since independence,” he said. “In the south, I’m told that Algiers ordered voting officials to release turnout figures of 70%. The police threw out those who refused and immediately replaced them.”

 

The interior ministry released turnout figures throughout the day. At 10:30 am local time, turnout reached 9%, at 5:00 pm 49%, and turnout reached 63% in the evening.

 

Bouteflika is competing against five lesser-known, cash-strapped rivals, including two nationalists, two moderate Islamists and a veteran female left-wing politician.

 

The 72-year-old Algerian leader needs to win convincingly to enhance the credibility of an election victory, as well as his authority over the oil and gas-rich North African nation.

 

Security tops campaign agenda

 

Security was tight across the Algerian capital following calls for a boycott of the election from al Qaeda’s North African arm.

 

The head of the organisation's branch in North Africa on Monday called on Algerians to boycott the vote in an audio message posted on an Islamist website. Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb has claimed responsibility for a series of deadly suicide bombings in Algeria last year, and seeks to unite Islamist groups across Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia.

 

Tens of thousands of security officials have been deployed in and around Algiers as well as in the northern towns of Boumerdes and Tizi-Ouzou, which are considered Islamist strongholds.

 

On Thursday, two police officers watching over a polling station in Algeria were injured in a bomb blast near Boumerdes, residents said. The attack was blamed on Islamist extremists.

 

International observers monitoring the vote

 

Algerian Interior Minister Nouredine Yazi Zerhouni has promised transparency and “respect for the results of the vote” in Thursday’s poll and observers from international organizations including the African Union and the Arab League have arrived in Algeria.

 

The United Nations has sent a review mission that is expected to report back to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

 

While voter turnout was a critical issue in Thursday’s poll, Georgian warned that exact figures might be hard to arrive at. “There are only about 200 international observers spread around something like 120,000 voting centres,” he said.

 

Date created : 2009-04-10

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