ALGIERS Islamist lawmakers walked out of the inaugural session of Algeria's parliament on Saturday to protest against an election they say was rigged to hand a majority to the ruling elite's party.
Algeria, supplier of about a fifth of Europe's imported gas, is the only country in north Africa left largely untouched by last year's "Arab Spring" revolts, but some analysts predict unrest if the establishment does not loosen its grip on power.
Islamist members of parliament held up placards reading "No to fraud!" during the session, the first time the chamber had met since a May 10 election, and then walked out.
The lawmakers who left were from the mildly Islamist Green Algeria Alliance and two smaller Islamist parties who between them have about 60 seats in the 462-seat parliament.
It was not clear if the members of parliament who walked out would later return. A prolonged boycott by the Islamists could complicate a reform of the constitution which President Abdelaziz Bouteflika has promised for this year.
Changing the constitution requires the support of three-quarters of parliament. Many of the Islamists voted with the government in the previous parliament, but if they are absent, the authorities could find it harder to get over the threshold for constitutional amendments.
In the May 10 election, the National Liberation Front - Algeria's ruling party since independence from colonial ruler France half a century ago - won 220 seats, and the allied RND party came second with 68 seats.
The result was at odds with the trend elsewhere in north Africa, where uprisings have pushed out entrenched leaders and handed power to once-outlawed Islamists.
Algeria's Islamist parties failed to inspire much enthusiasm in this month's election. Their leaders have long-standing links to the ruling establishment and many people were skeptical they represented a genuine opposition force.
One specialist on Islamist politics said anger over the election could give the Islamist parties a momentum they lacked before the election.
"This could be a mistake (for the authorities) because it may unify the Islamists who are very divided now," Mohamed Mouloudi told Reuters.
Algerian officials deny any manipulation of the election result, and European Union observers, who monitored the vote, did not offer any evidence of ballot fraud
(Writing by Christian Lowe; Editing by Andrew Heavens)