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Algeria’s Benflis Vows to Create National Opposition Movement

Ali Benflis, the former Algerian prime minister who came second in presidential elections last week, vowed to merge pockets of dissent into a national opposition movement for peaceful change.

“I will prepare, with the millions of those who support me, a political grouping that I will install across the whole country,” Benflis said in an interview in Algiers yesterday. “We will extend a hand to all the political parties that boycotted the presidential elections.”

President Abdelaziz Bouteflika secured a fourth term winning 81.53 percent of the vote in the April 17 elections, while Benflis took 12.18 percent. National turnout was 51.7 percent in the country that supplies gas to Europe. The results will be finalized by the Constitutional Council today.

Bouteflika, 77, who has rarely been seen in public since suffering a stroke last year, was widely expected to win the elections. Even so, his decision to seek a fourth term sparked unprecedented opposition, especially among the younger generation, with rallies held in Algiers by a grassroots movement called Barakat.

“The real winner of the poll was fraud,” Benflis said, saying some observers had been prevented from entering polling stations and others had been intimidated or bought off, a claim dismissed by the government. He also pointed to Bouteflika coming first in the northern Kabylie region, which traditionally boycotts elections and opposes the government, as further proof of fraud.

“This presidential candidate, who was declared elected, doesn’t represent legal power,” he said. “This is the reason for which I don’t recognize him as president of the republic.”

Benflis, a former leader of the ruling National Liberation Front party, ran for president in 2004. He largely avoided the media spotlight in the decade that followed until this election.

“I held 105 meetings in the 48 provinces of the country,” he said of his campaign. “Thousands and thousands of people came out to welcome and applaud me.”

Benflis said he wouldn’t accept any political overtures by the government, and that he doesn’t endorse violence as a means to challenge it.

“I am a man of dialogue and peaceful change,” he said. “Politics isn’t violence.”

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