A month after 176 people died in anti-government riots, Algerians voted Thursday on political reforms that would shift power away from the single party that has ruled for 26 years.
The referendum to modify 14 articles of the constitution was proposed in October after youths rioted in the streets of Algiers and other cities to protest shortages of food and jobs. Lower living standards are blamed on the dropping price of oil, Algeria's chief export.First reported results were of absentee ballots cast by Algerians living in southern France. The Algerian Consulate in Marseille said nearly 90 percent of those voting favored constitutional change.
It announced results of 41,039 yes to 3,532 no, with 1,126 people casting "null" ballots - a form of abstention.
"It's the beginning of change," 34-year-old businessman Joubi Wacer said after voting at a school in Bir Mouradais neighborhood. "After this, things will be different. At least we hope so."
Under clear blue skies, several elderly, veiled women walked to vote at the Bir Mouradais school. Men milled in the courtyard, smoking and discussing political changes their country seems to be experiencing. In remote southern parts, nomads traveled long distances to cast their ballots.
President Chadli Bendjedid soothed the unrest by promising a greater role in decision-making to people outside the National Liberation Front. As this North African country's only legal party, it has ruled since Algeria's independence from France in 1962.
Thursday's voting appeared calm. There were no indications of heightened security in Algiers, the capital where soldiers and police fired on demonstrators last month. Officials set the nationwide death toll from a week of rioting at 176. But other reports say three times as many people died.