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Friday, 31 May, 2002, 06:01 GMT 07:01 UK
Anger among Algeria's Berbers
Demonstrator throws stone at police in Tizi Ouzou
Local youths in Tizi Ouzou spent the day rioting

Violence has marred the Algerian parliamentary elections in the Berber-speaking region of Kabylie, about 62 miles (100km) east of the capital Algiers.

Children throwing around lists of candidates outside an abandoned polling station in Tadmait, Algeria
'Our oil is mixed with our blood,' one protester said

Local youth in the region's main town of Tizi Ouzou spent Thursday rioting in front of polling stations, throwing stones at security officials and burning tires.

Children as young as 10 been taking part in the unrest.

Anti-riot units and plain-clothes policemen threw some stones back and fired tear-gas at the demonstrators.

The clashes erupted on Thursday morning when election officials tried to open polling stations.

State of siege

For the past year protesters in the region had been in open conflict with the authorities, after a young student died while in custody of the security forces.

Protester runs to avoid tear gas in Tizi Ouzou
Tear gas fumes filled the streets in Tizi Ouzou

Political leaders in Kabylie have called for a boycott of the poll, a call that has been relayed in other parts of the country, especially in Algiers.

The authorities have accused demonstrators in Kabylie of using violence and intimidation to prevent potential voters from casting their ballots.

At a polling station set up in a primary school in the middle of one of Tizi Ouzou's many council estates, the police were trying to drive demonstrators away using tear gas.

The school was in a state of siege, surrounded by angry protestors who kept pelting stones on the building.

Elections officials had deserted the station and no one was there to cast their ballot.

The air was full of thick black smoke, mixed with the fumes of the tear gas canisters.

Government accused

Some protesters accused the police of trying to bus strangers into Kabylie to make them vote.

A local resident on the estate accused Algeria's government of making money out of the country's oil wealth while killing youngsters in the region.

"Our oil is mixed with our blood", he said, accusing the international community of ignoring the plight of the Algerian people.

Local activists say that 117 people have been killed by the security forces in Kabylie since the beginning of the trouble last year.

Officials speak of only 80 dead. Thousands have been injured.

Apart from the flashpoints around polling stations, Tizi Ouzou has been largely deserted.

Its residents locked themselves up following a call for a four-day general strike.

Fighting 'for democracy'

A young protester I met in the city's main square insisted that their revolt should now spread to the rest of the country.

Berber protester prepares to throw stones
The area has been plagued by violence for more than a year

"Algeria's problems come from the country's generals," he said.

"If people riot in the south, west and centre of the country, they will have to go."

Most protesters insist that they are Algerians before being Kabyles.

But the authorities have been trying to portray the current turmoil as a purely Kabyle issue.

Demonstrators insist that they are fighting for democracy, for justice and for jobs, not only for the recognition of their culture and their Berber language, Tamazight.

Further clashes

Villages outside Tizi Ouzou have also been cut off from the rest of the region, and tree trunks and stones have been place across the roads.

In one instance, demonstrators even dug a trench across the road to prevent police vehicles from reaching their village.

Clashes also erupted in several other towns of the region.

Violence has been rocking the region for more than a year now.

See also:

30 May 02 | Middle East
29 May 02 | Middle East
16 May 02 | Middle East
11 Jan 02 | Middle East
18 Mar 02 | Country profiles
18 Mar 02 | Middle East
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