- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 11, 2009

ALGIERS | President Abdelaziz Bouteflika hailed his landslide re-election for a third term as a “lesson in democracy” on Friday, but opposition politicians and independent media claimed fraud at the polls, and the U.S. government expressed concern.

Interior Minister Noureddine Yazid Zerhouni said Mr. Bouteflika won 90.24 percent of votes in Thursday’s election. Opponents had called for a boycott of the vote, which was marred by six terror attacks, one of which left a police officer dead, and unrest that left several polling stations burned.

Authorities put the turnout at more than 74 percent — unusually high for Algeria. Nearly 13 million of Algeria’s 20 million registered voters cast their ballot for the president, Mr. Zerhouni said.

“This truly is an eloquent lesson in democracy,” Mr. Bouteflika said in remarks carried by the official Algerie Presse Service news agency shortly after results were announced. He thanked Algerians for the “precious confidence” vote they granted him.

The 72-year-old president has suffered bouts of ill health. In power since 1999, Mr. Bouteflika was able to seek a third mandate after a constitutional change engineered by his backers in an all-but-closed political system. Critics have said this could make him president for life.

Mr. Bouteflika has repeatedly said he needed a massive victory to continue his policy of national reconciliation and reconstruction following an Islamist insurgency. The violence has left up to 200,000 people dead since 1992.

He also promised to launch a $150 billion investment plan and create 3 million jobs during his third term at the helm of this North African nation, which faces a lingering al Qaeda-linked insurgency, social unrest and sluggish economic growth, despite large reserves of oil and gas.

His victory Thursday was a record for an Algerian president since the former one-party state first allowed opposition parties in 1989.

Observers and Mr. Bouteflika’s five, low-profile challengers were baffled.

“There was a lot of fraud,” said Jelloul Joudi, campaign chief for candidate Louisa Hanoune, runner-up in the election with a meager 4 percent of the vote.

“I’m scandalized by Zerhouni’s contempt,” said another challenger, Mohammed Said, who received less than 1 percent.

The interior minister told journalists that the few purported cases of ballot stuffing reported to him would have had a “negligible” impact on the general result. “Nobody has provided us with precise and concrete cases,” he said.

Faycal Metaoui, an editorialist at the French-language El Watan newspaper, said there remained “huge doubts” about both the turnout and result. The daily reported that sporadic unrest continued Friday in the Bouira area east of the capital.

In Washington, the Obama administration said it was looking forward to continue working with Mr. Bouteflika. But State Department spokesman Richard Aker said of the fraud allegations: “We are concerned about these issues, and we want the government to address them.”

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