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In Algiers, Bouteflika takes fourth oath to lead a fractured Algeria

Algeria's president has taken his oath of office for a fourth term. In power since 1999, Abdelaziz Bouteflika officially received 81.5 percent of the vote in the April 17 election.

Algeria's 77-year-old president

- placed his right hand on the Koran on Monday and repeated in a frail voice the oath read out by Supreme Court chief Slimane Boudi.

In a speech handed out to journalists, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, a veteran of the war that led to

Algeria's independence from France

in 1962, promised to continue democratic reforms and efforts at national reconciliation.

"I thank the Algerian people for their renewed confidence," Bouteflika said in a weak voice in his first public speech in at least two years. "The April 17 election was a victory for democracy. It was a lesson in democracy." The president also paid tribute to voters and other candidates in the election - with a turnout of 51 percent, a "day of celebration and democracy for Algeria."

Bouteflika suffered a ministroke last year and did not even appear in public to campaign for the re-election that official results say

he overwhelmingly won.

Many opposition representatives did not attend the ceremony,

having alleged fraud even before the election

. Parties that boycotted the polls have united into one front, calling for a national conference on May 17 to discuss a political transition. Such a transition would include changes to the constitution - including imposing term limits, increasing parliamentary power and strengthening the judiciary.

Prime Minister Ali Benflis, the runner-up in the election with an official total of 12.18 percent of the vote, has formed his own party and begun talks with the rest of the opposition for a common platform. Benflis has refused to recognise Bouteflika's re-election and sat out the inauguration, saying that doing otherwise would make him "complicit in fraud."

Some have worried about the ailing Bouteflika's ability to continue governing with Algeria facing dwindling oil reserves, high youth unemployment and the threat of al Qaeda in the southern desert.

mkg/rc (Reuters, AFP, dpa, AP)

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