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Algeria's Parliamentary Elections Marked by Distrust - 2002-05-30

Algeria's parliamentary elections Wednesday were marked by low voter turnout and high degree of distrust in the political process. One place where that distrust is evident is in the city of Tizi Ouzou, in the eastern Kabylia region, where many people are boycotting the vote.

The streets of of the city were almost empty Thursday morning. Stores were shuttered and the smell of teargas hung in the air. Down a few narrow alleys, youths set tires ablaze. On other streets and at the town center, dozens gathered to hurl rocks at Algerian security forces who responded with teargas.

Kabylia has been roiled by violence for more than a year by ethnic Berbers demanding more political and economic rights. Local activists have called for a five-day strike and a region-wide boycott of Algeria's parliamentary elections. But few serious incidents were reported Thursday.

The government estimates less than 30 percent of Algeria's 28 million voters cast their ballot.

An engineering student who identified himself only as Moustapha, 26, said that, like many residents here, he would not be voting.

He says he has not voted in any Algerian election. The elections are a charade, he says; real change will come from the streets.

Nourredine Amimer, 48, agreed. He says Algeria has never been truly independent. He says the country has been run by a powerful clique of elite the Algerians call Le Pouvoir, or The Power.

The legislative elections are only the second since the start of Algeria's bloody civil war in 1992.

Many Algerians are deeply disenchanted with the 22 parties running in the elections. They accuse the government of failing to uphold democracy and deliver on basic needs like jobs and housing.

One polling booth in Algiers' Casbah, the old part of the city, was virtually empty Thursday afternoon. Mohammed Bessedik was among the few residents who came to cast his vote.

Mr. Bessedik says he had voted for the pro-government National Liberation Front party because he believes it is best qualified to bring peace, security and prosperity to Algeria. In any case, he says it is Algerians' duty to vote.

Polls closed at eight in the evening local time, and final results are expected early Friday.