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Last Updated:  Tuesday, 25 February, 2003, 17:45 GMT
Strike shuts down Algeria
By Mohamed Arezki Himeur
BBC, Algiers

A 48-hour general strike has brought Algeria to a halt.

The strike was called by the Algerian General Workers Union (UGTA) to protest against the privatisation of public enterprises and to denounce a wave of price hikes that have swept the country, as well as general economic mismanagement.

President Abdul Aziz Bouteflika
The unions used to back Bouteflika

Some 95% of workers were observing the action, a union representative said.

The industrial zones of Oued Smar, Rouiba and Reghaia, in the east are silent.

A striker in Rouiba, some 25 kilometres (15 miles) from the capital Algiers, told me:

"This is a warning to the government that we reject their selling off of the economy."

This industrial and economic silence was largely observed whether in banks, in air traffic control offices, the telecommunications sector, schools or on the railways.

Honeymoon over

Skeleton services are still running in various sectors, such as hospitals.

The oil and gas industry, which accounts for 95% of government earnings, was excluded from the strike.

Algiers skyline
Half the population live below the poverty line

Nearly 50% of Algeria's 31 million people live below the poverty line, according to official figures.

Unemployment affects about 30% of the population and is even high for those under 30.

The UGTA has mobilised its forces to flex not only its union muscles but its political ones.

The organisation, created in 1956 during the 1954-62 independence war, has always played a big role in the political scene.

It helped force the annulment of the legislative elections in 1992 after the crushing victory by the now-dissolved Islamic Salvation Front or FIS.

The UGTA also supported President Abdul Aziz Bouteflika during the 1999 election.

But it seems that now the honeymoon is well and truly over.

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