CAIRO - Algerians went to the polls to decide who will govern the country for the next five years, as ailing President Abdel Aziz Bouteflika seeks a fourth term. He faces strong opposition from former Prime Minister Ali Benflis.
Bouteflika cast his vote from a wheelchair as journalists and well-wishers looked on. The president smiled, but said little, clutching the hand of a young nephew who walked alongside him.
A group of women ululated to salute Bouteflika, as he greeted his supporters outside the polling station. Bouteflika, who suffered a stroke last year, appeared alert, but weak.
Interior Minister Taieb Belaiz read out voter participation figures from various cities, stressing that voting is taking place without any major glitches at 50,000 polling stations across the country.
There were a few media reports of protests and clashes around the country, but there did not appear to be significant violence.
The leading opposition candidate, former prime minister Ali Benflis, spoke with journalists after voting. Benflis said he hopes to rejuvenate the country if he is elected, but warned there could be trouble if there is cheating during the vote count. He added however, that he opposes any violence.
State television announcers reported that voter turnout was heavy, although video from relatively empty polling stations seem to contradict them. Interior Minister Belaiz noted that by mid-morning about nine percent of the country's 20 million eligible voters had been to the polls.
One elderly lady shouted “long live Algeria” as she voted, in an expression of optimism.
A young man who went to vote with his daughter said he was voting for the future of Algeria and that he hoped the election would help the people.
Six candidates, including former Prime Minister Ali Benflis, are competing to be the country's president for the next five years. Incumbent President Bouteflika has held the office since 1999. He was Algeria's youngest foreign minister and is the last of a generation of leaders who came to power after independence from France in 1962.