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Thursday, 9 May, 2002, 14:08 GMT 15:08 UK
Algeria campaigning starts under cloud
A cell in El Harrach prison after inmate violence
There has been a series of prison fires and uprisings
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By Stephanie Irvine
BBC North Africa correspondent

Algeria's parliamentary electoral campaign kicks off on Thursday, despite calls for a boycott from two opposition parties with strong support in the eastern region of Kabylie.

Algeria's President, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, has called for a massive turnout in the vote on 30 May, saying the elections present a good opportunity to strengthen democratic institutions.

Algerian President Bouteflika
President Bouteflika wants a big turnout
But Algerian newspapers suggest that public enthusiasm for the poll is unlikely in the current climate.

In the Berber region of Kabylie, where anti-government demonstrations have been taking place over the last year, many people are expected to boycott the elections.

The two main political parties in the region, the FSS and the RCD, as well as the Kabylie Citizens Movement, have dismissed the elections as a farce and called on people not to vote.

The Justice Minister, Ahmed Ouyahia, said those who wished to boycott the elections want to topple the regime.

In an interview with Algerian television, he said these elections were not about changing people's living conditions, but about bringing stability to the country.

General tension

The campaign is beginning at a time of tension throughout Algeria.

A week-and-a-half ago, around 2,000 unemployed youths rioted in the south over a lack of job opportunities.

There has also been an increase in bomb attacks in the capital, and a spate of fires and uprisings in prisons over the last month - including one that killed 19 people.

The justice minister has accused Islamists of being behind the prison violence, while others blame overcrowding and bad conditions.

See also:

02 May 02 | Middle East
Algeria hit by two massacres
01 May 02 | Middle East
'Fourteen dead' in Algeria prison fire
19 Apr 02 | Middle East
Algeria pressed on political killings
18 Mar 02 | Country profiles
Country profile: Algeria
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