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Thursday, 30 May, 2002, 20:02 GMT 21:02 UK
Protesters boycott Algerian polls
An Algerian man casts his vote
Turnout was reportedly low across Algeria
Polls have closed in Algeria's parliamentary elections with reports of a low turnout after many voters stayed away in protest.

Across the north-eastern Berber-speaking Kabylie region polling stations were largely deserted and in many places did not open at all.

There were also violent scenes as riot police clashed with youths trying to sabotage election booths in towns and villages in the Kabylie region.

Leading pro-Berber opposition parties urged voters to boycott the elections in protest at a government widely perceived as corrupt and repressive.

In Kabylie, turnout was reported to be as low as two per cent.

Security forces fought running battles with youths in the Kabylie capital of Tizi Ouzou, where a thick plume of smoke rose from burning rubber tyres set ablaze by the protesters.

The BBC's Heba Saleh, who went to Tizi-Ouzou, says the people of Kabylie are not just boycotting the poll, but they have been trying to ensure that no election at all takes place in the region.

Frightened population

Over the past two days, the whole Kabylie region has ground to a halt following a call for a general strike by local leaders.

Algerian election official

Our correspondent says shops, banks and government offices have been shut, and barely anyone is venturing out.

Berber activists say they are leading a citizens' revolt against what they say is official corruption and the dire social conditions in which most Algerians live.

Their anger was sparked a year ago when a local youth was killed while in the custody of the security forces.

Riots in turn led to the shooting of more than 80 unarmed demonstrators by the security forces.

Commentators say turnout will be a critical measure of the government's popularity.


The elections come as Algeria's decade-long civil war continues to ravage the country.

Algerian election
23 parties and 1,266 independent candidates fighting for 389 seats
1991 election sparked civil war when the military regime rejected Islamist victory
1997 election marred by fraud allegations
Special election watchdog has been set up for this election

Hours before the voting began, suspected Islamic rebels killed 23 civilians in Sendjas village, 180 kilometres (112 miles) west of the capital Algiers.

The massacre was the latest in a series of killings of civilians and members of government forces by groups such as the Armed Islamic Group over the past few weeks, which have added to election tensions.

The government hopes the election will prove Algeria's commitment to democracy and improve its international standing, but most Algerians feel the polls are irrelevant.

Our correspondent says Algerians know that parliament is toothless, unable to hold accountable either the government or the military clique which holds real power in the country.

Critics of the regime say the election is just a show of pluralism, to satisfy the West, and give the appearance of democracy.

These are the first legislative elections since 1997 and the second since December 1991.

The 1991 poll was thought to have been won by an Islamic party, but results were cancelled by the army - sparking a civil war in which more than 100,000 people have died.

The BBC's Greg Wood reports from Kabylie
"Whatever these elections do achieve, few believe they will bring peace to Algeria"
Former Prime Minister of Algeria, Abdelhamid Brahimi
"Elections in Algeria do not mean there is any kind of democracy at all"
Opposition RCD leader, Khalifa Mamaeri
"Millions in Kabylie don't understand a word of Arabic"
See also:

28 May 02 | Media reports
29 May 02 | Media reports
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18 Mar 02 | Middle East
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