Bouteflika wins third term as Algerian president

ALGIERS Fri Apr 10, 2009 2:47pm EDT

1 of 4. Algeria's President Abdelaziz Bouteflika smiles at his campaign's communications department during a surprise visit in Algiers April 10, 2009.

Credit: Reuters/Zohra Bensemra

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ALGIERS (Reuters) - President Abdelaziz Bouteflika took 90.24 percent of the vote in a presidential election to win a third five-year term as leader of Algeria, an oil producer with a lingering Islamist insurgency.

An opposition party which had called for a boycott of the polls alleged fraud on an "industrial scale" and a newspaper reported rioting east of the capital -- a reminder of the anger over poverty and unemployment felt in parts of the country.

Announcing the result on Friday, Algerian Interior Minister Noureddine Yazid Zerhouni said: "This is a victory for the Algerian nation as it builds democracy."

A close Bouteflika ally, Zerhouni said that if there were any voting irregularities they could not have had a significant effect on the result in the vast Muslim country that lies across the Mediterranean from the European Union.

The newspaper El Watan said on its website people protesting against the result blocked roads with burning tires and clashed with police in Kabylie province east of Algiers. The report could not immediately be confirmed.

The mountainous province has a history of anti-government protests. Two police officers were injured in an explosion at a polling station there during voting on Thursday.

Algeria cooperates with the United States in its fight against al Qaeda. U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Aker acknowledged some concern about fraud allegations, but said: "We are looking forward to working with President Bouteflika."

Victory for Bouteflika, 72, a veteran of Algeria's war of independence from France, was never in doubt. He faced only lightweight rivals in the ballot and had a well-funded campaign.

Election officials put turnout at just over 74 percent, higher than in the last presidential vote and a sign that many of Algeria's 34 million people ignored the opposition calls for a boycott.

"The high turnout means that the supporters of the boycott have neither political nor social influence," said Mohamed Lagab, professor of political science at Algiers University.

FRAUD ALLEGATIONS

Algerian lawmakers cleared the way for Bouteflika to stand for a third term by abolishing term limits, a move that critics said could allow him to serve as president for life.

The opposition Front of Socialist Forces accused the authorities of artificially inflating the turnout. "(There was) a real tsunami of massive fraud which reached an industrial scale," the party said in a statement.

In its Friday edition, El Watan published a front-page caricature of Bouteflika with a crown on his head. "A coronation that surprised no one," it said.

The election result matters to the outside world because Algeria, an OPEC member, has the world's 15th largest oil reserves and accounts for 20 percent of the EU's gas imports.

European governments fear turmoil in Algeria could led to a flood of illegal migrants.

Supporters say Bouteflika deserves credit for steering Africa's second-largest country back to stability after the government and Islamists fought a civil conflict in which an estimated 150,000 people were killed in the 1990s.

Some sections of the population feel disenfranchised from the political process and analysts say that helps feed Algeria's low-level Islamist insurgency, now affiliated to al Qaeda.

(Additional reporting by Washington bureau; Writing by Christian Lowe; Editing by Jonathan Wright )

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