Algerian General Election
Pascal Le Segretain  /  Getty Images
Supporters of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika celebrate victory Thursday in Algiers, Algeria. Bouteflika had five opponents including the former Prime Minister Ali Benflis.
updated 4/8/2004 9:02:12 PM ET 2004-04-09T01:02:12

Supporters of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika flooded the streets of Algeria’s capital Thursday, claiming victory in a presidential election that rivals insist was marred by fraud.

Riot police jostled with journalists and fired tear gas to disperse a crowd of Bouteflika opponents who tried to protest in central Algiers, claiming his allies hijacked the vote.

The final polls closed at around 9 p.m. (4 p.m. ET), though official results were not expected until Friday morning. But many supporters of the president were already claiming victory.

“This is a moment of great joy — we are going to win in the first round,” said Abdeslam Bouchouareb, a Bouteflika campaign spokesman. “The seeds we planted for the country have borne fruit.”

Meanwhile, throughout the capital, supporters of the president blared car horns and brandished large photos of Bouteflika as they sped through the city’s winding streets in cars and trucks.

Allies of former Prime Minister Ali Benflis, Islamic candidate Abdallah Djeballah and Kabylie regional leader Said Sadi had sought to organize a rally.

“They burned ballot boxes, harassed our election observers and blocked streets leading to the polls,” said Ali Mimouni, a spokesman for Benflis. “That confirms the fraud we were expecting.”

Many Algerians expressed hope that the vote would signal an important step toward burgeoning democracy in an oil-rich country long dominated by the army and a bloody 12-year Islamic uprising.

Bouteflika is a U.S. ally in the fight against terrorism. The president’s backers say he has returned a country long preoccupied with wrenching domestic ills onto the international stage.

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