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Friday, 31 May, 2002, 01:35 GMT 02:35 UK
US condemns Algeria poll violence
Rioter in Tizi Ouzou
Demonstrators tried to stop the poll going ahead
The United States has condemned violence in Algeria which marred the country's first parliamentary elections for seven years.

A State Department spokesman said Washington supported the elections and would continue to encourage Algeria in its bid for greater democracy.

Voting is giving support to the government and I don't want to express myself to these criminals

Samir Salahi, shopkeeper
Algerian authorities said voter turnout was low as many voters - particularly in the north-eastern Berber-speaking Kabylie region - heeded a call by opposition parties to stay away in protest.

Observers say parties of the current ruling coalition are expected to hold on to power.

It is not clear when the official results will be known.

The BBC correspondent in Algiers, Heba Saleh, says most people regard the election as irrelevant, because the parliament is unable to hold accountable the government or the miltary clique who hold real power in Algeria.

Low turnout

The Algerian Interior Ministry, quoted by state radio, said overall turnout was 47.5% - the lowest recorded since independence in 1962. Fewer than 2% of voters cast ballots in Kabylie, the main homeland of Berbers who comprise about a fifth of the population.

Algerian voter
Opposition parties urged voters to stay away

Kabylie has been rocked by Berber-led anti-government riots for a year since a local youth was killed while in the custody of the security forces.

The leading pro-Berber opposition parties, the Socialist Forces Front (FFS) and the Rally for Culture and Democracy (RCD) had called for a boycott of the elections to protest against high unemployment, austere economic policies and allegations of electoral fraud.

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

In Kabylie's capital, Tizi Ouzou, riot police clashed with youths trying to sabotage polling stations.

Only 175 out of 880 voting centres in Tizi Ouzou opened, while elsewhere demonstrators attacked polling stations with knives and petrol bombs, the interior ministry said.

Our correspondent, who went to Tizi Ouzou, said streets were deserted and the air was thick with black smoke from burning tyres set ablaze by the protesters.

Opposition parties said the election results would be insignificant.

Washington reacts

The elections came against a background of continuing violence which has ravaged the country since the cancellation of a general election in 1992.

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 polls opened, suspected Islamic militants killed 25 nomads in the village of Sendjas in Chlef province, 200 kilometres (125 miles) west of the capital, Algiers.

The elections were for the first time being held under a system of proportional representation which, the Algerian Government said, was aimed at preventing a repeat of electoral fraud which occurred in elections in 1997.

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

Nonetheless, US State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said: "We support the democratic development of Algeria. We have seen progress in Algeria for greater democracy."

He added that the US urged the Algerian Government "to continue efforts to improve and strengthen freedom of expression, responsive government and transparent political process".

The BBC's Paul Wood reports from Algiers
"People believe that decisions here lie outside the political process"
See also:

31 May 02 | Middle East
28 May 02 | Media reports
29 May 02 | Middle East
16 May 02 | Middle East
18 Mar 02 | Country profiles
18 Mar 02 | Middle East
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