- Title: ALGERIA: Campaigning begins for presidential elections
- Date: 20th March 2009
- Summary: PEOPLE CHEERING WITH FLAGS
- Embargoed: 4th April 2009 13:00
- Location: Algeria
- Country: Algeria
- Topics: Domestic Politics
- Reuters ID: LVA8U1J6C26032GL6VWYC8VVS3MF
- Story Text: Government critics cried foul when parliament amended the north African OPEC member's constitution last year to allow the 72-year-old Bouteflika to seek another five-year mandate.
Well-known opposition figures are boycotting the April 9 poll and the fact that none of the president's five challengers has much chance raises the prospect of a low turnout that would underscore popular apathy towards formal politics.
Supporters say Bouteflika deserves the trust of the people for steering Africa's second-largest country back to stability after a civil conflict in the 1990s that claimed an estimated 150,000 lives.
As the president prepared to speak in Batna, his supporters sang, danced and waved photos of their candidate.
He promised $150 billion(USD) for development spending if elected and vowed to create 3 million jobs, address a housing shortage by building 1 million homes and build hospitals, schools and universities.
He says he would press ahead with a national reconciliation policy under which thousands of Islamist rebels have disarmed.
Algeria's economy relies heavily on oil and gas exports and investment in the non-oil sector is too weak to create enough jobs for an overwhelmingly young population.
Analysts say it will be harder to defeat the remaining hard core of Al Qaeda-aligned insurgents and ensure long-term stability unless the government re-connects with young people who view politicians as self-serving and out of touch.
Unemployment in Algeria stands officially at 11 percent but is estimated at more than 70 percent among adults under 30 and a survey last year suggested that as many as half of Algerian young men are tempted by illegal emigration.
Turnout in a 2007 legislative poll was 35 percent, the lowest of any Algerian election to date. The government has sent millions of mobile phone SMS messages urging people to vote next month, saying: "Don't let anyone decide for you."
Students living far from home will be allowed to vote near their university compounds and mosque imams have been asked to encourage the faithful to turn out on polling day.
Islamist rebels have stepped up attacks before the election and the death toll from political violence more than doubled to 33 last month.
Officials say the government has the intelligence capability to infiltrate insurgent groups and enough troops on the ground to foil rebel attacks aimed at disrupting the poll.
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