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Algerian President Bouteflika turns up to vote as election hit by low turnout

Presidential polls have closed in Algeria, following clashes in at least one region. Ailing Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika is widely expected to win a fourth term, in a poll with low turnout.

Voters were slow to get to the polls on Thursday after polls opened in Algeria's presidential election. Many of the country' 23 million eligible voters, especially the young ones, had not been expected to turn out amid boycott calls.

Results are not expected until Friday.

There were clashes between police and youths seeking to disrupt the poll in the Bouira district, southeast of the capital Algiers. More than 40 people were injured in the unrest.

Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika made his first public appearance in two years when he turned up to vote at a school in Algiers. The 77-year-old is suffering from the effects of a stroke last year and was entirely absent from the three-week election campaign.

He arrived in a wheelchair at the polling station accompanied by his brother Said, who acts as his special advisor. Bouteflika waved and smiled to reporters, but did not speak to them.

The president's intention to seek re-election despite his poor health has drawn criticism. But he remains popular among many Algerians for his role in helping to end the country's devastating civil war during the 1990s.

Bouteflika is expected to win the vote. He won re-election in 2009 with 90 percent of the vote, a number local and international observers considered inflated.

Boycott calls lower turnout

Many youth activists and opposition parties had called on voters to boycott the election, with many questioning whether his health should preclude his re-election. They say Bouteflika will not introduce reforms to a system that has changed little since Algeria's independence from France in 1962.

Critics say reports of high turnout in previous elections have been skewed. According to a leaked US diplomatic cable from 2009, turnout at that year's election was estimated at 25 to 30 percent, compared to the official figure of 74.11 percent.

Former prime minister Ali Benflis is considered the most viable of the five candidates attempting to challenge the sitting president's rule. Benflis lost the election to Bouteflika in 2004 in a vote he argued was rigged and said fraud would be his "main adversary" on Thursday.

dr/hc (AFP, Reuters, AP, dpa)

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