Ruling party wins Algeria election
ALGIERS, Algeria -- The ruling party of Prime Minister Ali Benflis has won a clear victory in controversial parliamentary elections in Algeria, the Interior Ministry said.
The National Liberation Front won a majority of seats in the 389-body National People's Assembly, The Associated Press reported the ministry as saying on Friday. The party -- one of 23 participating in the election -- won 199 seats.
Two leading opposition parties -- the Socialist Forces Front and the Rally for Culture and Democracy -- had called for a boycott of the vote, saying they expected fraud.
Only 47 percent of the nation's 17 million registered voters cast ballots, the lowest participation rate since independence in 1962. The last legislative election, in 1997, drew 63 percent of voters.
Widespread apathy was evident throughout the campaign, which came at a time of severe economic malaise and ongoing violence linked to the North African nation's brutal 10-year Islamic insurgency.
Interior Minister Yazid Zerhouni told reporters at a news conference that the election represented a victory for openness and transparency.
The elections have been overshadowed by killings and accusations of a rigged vote. Just hours before the polls opened on Thursday, 23 people were killed in Sendjas village in Chlef province, west of Algiers, the Algerian news agency APS reported, quoting a government security source.
The poll is the second legislative election since a bloody uprising flared after the cancellation of a parliamentary poll in 1992 in which radical Islamists had taken a commanding lead.
Analysts say soaring unemployment, crammed housing and severe water shortages turned many voters away from the election.
Security forces sent reinforcements into Algiers on Thursday, and road blocks were erected along major routes to guard against terrorist attacks and attempts to disrupt voting, The Associated Press reported.
The main secular opposition parties shunned what they call a doomed and futile attempt by a discredited government to redeem its democratic credentials.
"We're staying away from these elections because the present institutions are the product of electoral fraud in 1997 and 1999," Ahmed Djeddai, first secretary of the Socialist Forces Front (FFS), told Reuters Television.
In 1997, the ruling National Democratic Rally (RND), set up only months before the vote, topped the poll with 156 seats, followed by the FLN with 62.
Opposition leaders said that vote was marred by massive fraud. They have also denied the legitimacy of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika's victory in the 1999 presidential vote.
Algeria is still grappling with a crisis triggered by the scrapping of the 1992 poll. The level of violence has fallen in recent years, but the authorities say more than 100,000 people, mostly civilians, have been killed in the past decade.
Independent sources put the toll at up to 150,000.
In Kabylie's main city of Tizi-Ouzou, most shops, banks and public offices have been closed since Tuesday in response to a call by Berber activists for a strike.
"We'll make sure nobody votes here and that no police reinforcements get through either," a teenage protester told a Reuters photographer at a barricade of burning tyres, tree trunks and rocks.
Similar roadblocks were erected all around Tizi-Ouzou, 90 kilometres (55 miles) east of Algiers.
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