|An Algerian woman casts her vote at a polling centre in Algiers on April 17, 2014. Algerian voters started casting ballots Thursday morning in the country's presidential election, which pits incumbent President Abdelaziz Bouteflika against former Prime Minister Ali Benflis and four other candidates. (Xinhua/Mohamed Kadri)
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ALGIERS, April 17 (Xinhua) -- Polling stations opened on Thursday in Algeria, as some 23 million registered voters cast their ballots to elect their next president in the North African nation's fifth presidential election since the adoption of the plural party system in 1989.
Algerian state television aired images of voters lining up in queues in front of polling stations in the 48 provinces of the country, as they waited to choose one of six presidential candidates, a list that includes incumbent President Abdelaziz Bouteflika.
The government mobilized an unprecedented 186,000 officers to secure the secure the 27,700 polling stations around the country, and more than 10,000 checkpoints were set up, the General Department of National Security said.
Some police officers, armed with machine guns rather than the usual pistols, can be seen patrolling the streets in Algiers.
The Defense Ministry had announced earlier this week that it will participate in securing the polls.
More than 500 observers from the Arab League, the African Union, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, the European Union, the United Nations, are monitoring the poll, along with two local bodies, the National Commission on Election Monitoring, composed of representatives of political parties and independent candidates, and the National Commission for the Supervision of Elections, composed exclusively of magistrates.
Two hours after polling started, Interior Minister Tayeb Belaiz announced an initial turnout of 9.15 percent nationwide.
Observers believe that the race will narrowly be limited between the 77-year-old Bouteflika, who seeks a fourth five-year- term in office, and his former premier, Ali Benflis.
Bouteflika, on a wheelchair and flanked by family members, cast his vote in a polling station in upper Algiers He suffered a minor stroke last year.
In the weeks before the elections, many of the campaign rallies were marked by low turnout, mostly in the capital city of Algiers which is considered by some analysts as a barometer of the general voter orientation.
The four other candidates include Louisa Hanoune, leader of Workers' Party, Moussa Touati, head of Algerian National Front, Ali Fawzi Rebaine, leader of the AHD 54 party, and Abdelaziz Belaid, head of the Moustakbel Front.
The polling stations are scheduled to be open until 7 p.m. (18: 00 GMT) nationwide, and are likely to be extended for an additional hour at the request of organizers.
The mood in the country is tense as many Algerians worry that the elections could cause increased political instability, especially if the results of the elections are disputed.
While campaigning, Bouteflika's supporters have continually warned voters that the country would descend into "chaos" if Bouteflika is not reelected, a warning the Benflis campaign says is exaggerated to cause fear among the general public.
Despite accusations that the Benflis campaign will "orchestrate violent" protests if their candidate is not elected, Benflis says he is committed to being "peaceful" and "not preparing for revolt. "
If no winner emerges in the first round of elections, a second round would be held 15 days later.