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Algeria's President Invites Observers to Monitor Election

Algeria's president has invited foreign observers to monitor the coming presidential election. The Algerian leader was elected five years ago amid speculation that the election was rigged.

According to Algerian state radio, president Abdelaziz Bouteflika has asked the United Nations and other international monitoring groups to come observe his country's presidential election, which is scheduled for April.

The president, who is expected to announce his bid for re-election soon, said the observers would be free to monitor the conditions under which the vote is held.

In a letter to U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, Mr. Bouteflika said observers can come from the United Nations, The Arab League, the African Union, the European Union, and the European Parliament.

Two weeks ago a top U.S. diplomat called on Algeria to hold free and fair elections.

After a three-day visit in late January, Assistant Secretary of State Lorne Craner said he was assured by Algerian leaders that the election would be fair. But Mr. Craner remained concerned because opposition leaders have threatened to boycott the election unless changes are made.

Mr. Bouteflika was elected to a five-year term in 1999, but all seven candidates who were running against him pulled out of the race just before the vote, because they believed the process was corrupt.

Critics accuse Mr. Bouteflika of dominating radio and television broadcasts, and using bribes to buy support.