70 wounded as anti-vote Algerian youths, police clash
Clashes in Algeria's restive Kabylie region between security forces and youths opposed to Thursday's presidential election wounded around 70 people, AFP reports according to local sources.
Separate groups of youths seeking to disrupt voting in the Bouira region, southeast of Algiers, ransacked polling stations in three localities shortly after they opened at 0700 GMT, with riot police firing tear gas to disperse them.
At least 70 people were injured, including 47 policemen, and voting was temporarily suspended in Raffour, M'Chedellah and Saharij, the sources said.
In Raffour, anti-regime sentiment was palpable, with masked youths armed with slings and chanting hostile slogans confronting police who fired tear gas canisters, an AFP photographer reported.
Slogans they shouted included "Ulach smah" ("No forgiveness" in Kabyle, a Berber dialect), the cry of revenge for the bloody suppression of protests in 2001, in which more than 100 people were killed.
Graffiti scrawled across a metal barrier read: "No to Bouteflika, no to Benflis, yes to a democratic transition," referring to President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who is seeking re-election after 15 years in power, and his main rival Ali Benflis.
In Ighrem, also in the Bouira region, young men armed with clubs blocked off the exit to the town, burning tyres in the street, before police intervened to reopen it.
In the capital, where security forces have been heavily deployed, police aggressively arrested five protesters shouting anti-regime slogans, an AFP journalist reported.
Interior Minister Tayeb Belaiz insisted the election was taking place "in good conditions in the 50,000 voting centres" across the country, saying on state television that 23 percent of the electorate had cast their ballots by 1300 GMT.
The ailing president, who suffered a mini-stroke last year and voted from a wheelchair on Thursday, has urged a large turnout as he eyes a fourth term in office.
Despite his chronic health problems, Bouteflika is widely expected to win the leadership contest against five other candidates.
But youth protest group Barakat (Enough) and a coalition of five opposition parties urged voters to shun an election they say is a "sham".
And Bouteflika's main election rival, Benflis, has repeatedly warned of fraud, describing it as his "main adversary" in the contest.
Police violently dispersed a demonstration organised by Barakat in Algiers on Wednesday and arrested some of its members.
A number of rallies were disrupted in the last week of the election campaign, some of them by protesters in the mainly-Berber Kabylie region backing calls for a boycott.