Algeria presidential aide claims election victory

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A top aide to Algeria’s incumbent President Abdelaziz Bouteflika has claimed a “landslide” victory for the ailing leader following Thursday’s vote across the North African nation and amid allegations of fraud by his rivals.

Official poll results are expected to be released later on Friday, but if Bouteflika clinches victory, as widely projected, it will be the 77-year-old’s fourth term in office despite his serious health issues and rare public appearance since he suffered a stroke last year.

“Our candidate is the winner,” said Bouteflika’s personal representative Abdelaziz Belkhadem. “Without any doubt, Bouteflika got a landslide victory,” he added without elaborating.

However, Ali Benflis, Bouteflika’s main rival among several opposition presidential candidates struggling to challenge his 15-year rule, swiftly rejected the projected vote results, alleging fraud.

“I do not recognize these results, I condemn this fraud,” he said soon after the polls closed.

Thursday’s voting was conducted largely peacefully. However, in two villages east of Algiers, security forces fired tear gas and clashed with youths who tried to disrupt voting, local officials said.

Moreover, several ballot boxes were burned in the area, which is a stronghold of an opposition party boycotting the election and a mostly ethnic Berber-speaking region that has been the scene of sporadic unrest.

Also on Wednesday, police broke up a protest rally by an anti-government movement called “Barakat,” which is demanding peaceful change.

Since a stroke that put him in a Paris hospital for three months, Bouteflika has appeared only a few times in public, usually when speaking with visiting dignitaries. He did not campaign, though allies say he is well enough to govern.

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