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    Polls Close in Algerian Election Boycotted by Opposition Parties

    Polls have closed in Algeria where some opposition parties boycotted presidential balloting because electoral laws were changed to allow Abdelaziz Bouteflika to run for a third term. Meanwhile, two police officers were injured in a bomb blast outside the capital.

    Algeria's interior ministry says the policemen were injured in the town of Naceria, some 50 kilometers east of Algeris in an explosion blamed on Islamic militants. Security forces defused two other bombs at the scene.

    Al-Qaida's North Africa wing told voters to boycott the election. The group has attacked Algerian security forces since the military canceled the second round of parliamentary elections in 1992, when it appeared that a coalition of Islamist groups might take power.

    Election observers say a dozen opposition supporters burned down a polling station and closed two others in the Bouira District on Thursday. The district governor says the two stations closed were later reopened by security forces. Interior Minister Yazid Zerhouni told reporters the government regrets the incident, but that it will not affect the election.

    Two of Algeria's leading opposition parties are boycotting the ballot, including the Movement for Culture and Democracy, which says it is mourning the death of democracy.

    Student Abderazake Ipersia says he did not vote because he has lost faith in the country's politicians.

    Ipersia says politicians have failed to deliver on promises to improve the quality of life. He says many young people would rather risk death by leaving the county illegally than stay in Algeria.

    While President Bouteflika faced little serious opposition, he campaigned hard, hoping for a big turn-out to validate his efforts at national reconciliation and economic reconstruction.

    His final campaign speeches focused on national security. But he also addressed broader social issues by promising to create 3,000,000 new jobs, raise the minimum wage, build more affordable housing and write-off debts owed by farmers.

    Officially running as an independent, the 72-year-old veteran of the fight against French colonialism is backed by Algeria's three largest political parties, which together control more than 80 percent of the seats in parliament.

    President Bouteflika's five opponents include two nationalist candidates, two moderate Islamists and the nation's first female presidential contender.

    Louisa Hanoune of the Algerian Workers' Party told reporters that recent elections have been marred by vote fraud and that the country can no longer tolerate it.

    Chadili Nefati led the election observer mission from the Arab League.

    Nefati says his delegation visited many polling stations in the capital and found that the vote was conducted according to the law, with good security and order.

     

    Interior Minister Zerhouni is expected to announce the winner on Friday. Most political observers expect President Bouteflika to win far more than the 50 percent of the vote required to avoid a second round of balloting.

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