Opposition cries fraud in Algerian election

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President Abdelaziz Bouteflika arrives on a wheelchair to vote in the presidential elections in Algiers, Thursday, April 17, 2014. Algerians are trickling into the polls to elect a new president of this oil-rich North African nation in an election expected to be won by the ailing incumbent. President Bouteflika has ruled this nation for the past 15 years and, despite suffering from a stroke, is running for a fourth term on a platform of stability. (AP Photo/Sidali Djarboub)

President Abdelaziz Bouteflika arrives on a wheelchair to vote in the presidential elections in Algiers, Thursday, April 17, 2014. Algerians are trickling into the polls to elect a new president of this oil-rich North African nation in an election expected to be won by the ailing incumbent. President Bouteflika has ruled this nation for the past 15 years and, despite suffering from a stroke, is running for a fourth term on a platform of stability. (AP Photo/Sidali Djarboub)

A mother allows her young daughter to cast her ballot for presidential elections in a polling station in downtown Algiers on April 17, 2014. Algerians headed to the polls to elect a president in a contest widely expected to be won by 77-year-old incumbent Abdelaziz Bouteflika who is running for a fourth term. (AP Photo/Paul Schemm)

President Abdelaziz Bouteflika arrives on a wheelchair to vote in the presidential elections in Algiers, Thursday, April 17, 2014. Algerians are trickling into the polls to elect a new president of this oil-rich North African nation in an election expected to be won by the ailing incumbent. President Bouteflika has ruled this nation for the past 15 years and, despite suffering from a stroke, is running for a fourth term on a platform of stability. (AP Photo/Sidali Djarboub)

An election worker empties a ballot box during the presidential elections in a polling station in the Algerian capital, Algiers, Thursday, April 17, 2014. Algerians are trickling into the polls to elect a new president of this oil-rich North African nation in an election expected to be won by the ailing incumbent. President Bouteflika has ruled this nation for the past 15 years and, despite suffering from a stroke, is running for a fourth term on a platform of stability. Six candidates are running for the powerful presidency in the April 17 elections. (AP Photo/Sidali djarboub)

Louisa Hanoune, the only woman running for Algeria’s presidency and head of the Worker’s Party, leaves the voting booth before voting in the presidential elections, Thursday, April, 17 2014. Algerians trickled into voting booths Thursday to elect the president of this oil-rich North African nation in an election expected to be dominated by the ailing incumbent running for a fourth term. Despite suffering from a stroke and being entirely absent from the three-week election campaign, 77-year-old Abdelaziz Bouteflika is backed by the powerful institutions of the state and represents stability for Algerians. (AP Photo)

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ALGIERS, Algeria (AP) — The main opposition candidate in Algeria’s presidential elections cried foul late Thursday night hours after voting ended, alleging massive fraud and vowing to reject any results announced.

Ali Benflis told supporters at his headquarters that preliminary information indicated fraud on a grand scale with grave irregularities across the country.

“Our history will remember this date as a great crime against the nation by stealing the voice of the citizens and blocking popular will,” he said, while fireworks from celebrating supporters of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, his opponent, could be heard in the background.

The national commission charged with supervising the elections, however, insisted that aside from a few incidents, the election went smoothly with just 130 complaints.

Turnout was 51.7 percent of the 23 million registered voters, according to the Interior Minister.

Benflis’ speech essentially amounted to a concession of defeat, though he vowed to use “all peaceful political means as well as legal avenues” to resist the results.

The election appears to have been the most competitive presidential contest in Algeria’s recent memory with Benflis putting up a spirited fight against an ailing Bouteflika who had the full might of the powerful state to make up for his weakened condition.

The 77-year-old president is still recovering from a stroke last year that has left him speaking and moving with difficulty and he was entirely absent from the three week presidential campaign — leading some to question his fitness to lead this oil-rich nation and key U.S. ally in the war on terror.

The signature image of Thursday’s vote was Bouteflika being wheeled into a polling station to cast his vote — however he still has a great deal of support in a country traumatized by a decade of civil war in the 1990s.

Turnout throughout the day in the sundrenched Algerian capital appeared to be fairly light with older people voting in numbers and the young — who make up a majority of the population — staying away.

Memories of the brutal struggle against radical Islamists in the 1990s that claimed 200,000 lives are still fresh in many people’s memory and for them Bouteflika has been synonymous with a return to peace.

“Young people don’t vote, but people my age vote because they remember the dark times and they know what’s important,” said Nabil Damous, a 41 year-old man voting in the immense Abdel Kader high school, formerly a convent, on the edge of the low-income Bab el-Oued neighborhood. “People who don’t vote don’t want this country to move forward.”

Sonia Izem, a middle-aged woman in a dark headscarf, said she was voting for Bouteflika because she, too, remembered when Bab el-Oued was a battleground between security forces and Islamists and because she felt the rampant corruption in the country would be less during the fourth term.

“The people around him have already stolen a lot and they have nearly filled their sack and they won’t need to steal very much in the next term,” she said as she entered the nearly empty

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