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Bouteflika Sweeps Algerian Election - 2004-04-09

Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika has swept the country's presidential election, capturing nearly 84 percent of the vote, according to results announced by the interior minister Friday. The president's landslide victory is a surprise, and supporters of his main rival accused the president of cheating.

Interior Minister Yazid Zerhouni announced the results of Algeria's first multiparty presidential election in years during a news conference in Algiers.

He says Mr. Bouteflika is the winner of the Thursday vote, with 83.9 percent of the vote. He says, at nearly 60 percent, the voter turnout was high.

The president's main rival, his former prime minister, Ali Benflis, scored less than seven percent of the vote, and four other candidates divided up the rest.

Mr. Bouteflika's supporters applauded the results, and on the streets of Algiers, drivers honked their horns and cheered.

But many voters were surprised by the president's high return, which is roughly 10 percentage points higher than in the 1999 elections, when all the opposition candidates withdrew from the race to protest alleged rigging.

In an interview with VOA, Mohamed Benchico, director of Algeria's Le Matin newspaper, said the results of Thursday's election indicated massive fraud.

Interior Minister Zerhouni told the news conference Friday the elections were closely watched.

The interior minister says thousands of election observers, representing all the presidential candidates, had manned the polling stations, and more than 100 foreign observers also monitored the polls. He says voters who experienced problems in casting their ballots have the right to file complaints.

But supporters of Mr. Buteflika's main rival, former Prime Minister Ali Benflis, who ended up a distant second, reportedly accused the president's camp of electoral irregularities. But they did not cite specific instances of fraud, and it was not immediately clear whether they will challenge the election results.

Mr. Bouteflika is credited with ending Islamic insurgency of the 1990s, and improving Algeria's relations with the West.