23 massacred as Algerians vote in boycotted election

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The Independent Online

Algerians voted in parliamentary elections yesterday following a massacre of 25 civilians and amid a boycott by opposition parties and claims of vote-rigging.

Algerians voted in parliamentary elections yesterday following a massacre of 25 civilians and amid a boycott by opposition parties and claims of vote-rigging.

The pretence by the President, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, that the balloting would herald a new era of democracy and calm was shattered, with his coalition partners and their military backers predicting a return to power.

The legislative election is the first since 1997 and the second since the military cancelled a certain victory by Islamists in a 1992 poll, provo- king a decade-long civil war that has claimed more than 120,000 lives.

Twenty-five civilians, including 14 children, were added to the toll yesterday in an overnight raid by suspected Islamic guerrillas on Sendjas village, 120 miles west of Algiers. Three of the victims, all nomads, were said to have been set on fire.

The ethnic Berber minority, who comprise five million of the 31 million population, and whose cultural isolation has fuelled a bloody uprising over the past year, named yesterday "a day of shame" and boycotted the vote. Berber men besieged polling stations with burning tyres and blocked roads across their Kabylie heartland.

"If you see me here it's because my presence was requested by the provincial authorities. Otherwise, I'd be at home," an electoralofficial in Tizi Ouzou, Kabylie's main city, said. Turnout in the city was reported to be just 1.8 per cent. The Government sent 15,000 reinforcements to Kabylie and banned international media from the area.

Two leading pro-Berber opposition parties, the Socialist Forces Front and the Rally for Culture and Democracy, called on voters to stay at home, alleging authorities would rig the polls, as they are widely believed to have done in 1997.

More than half of Algerians survive on less than £1 a day and most are aware the military is the real power in a mafia-like establishment that opponents accuse of squandering £15bn worth of oil and gas export revenues.

The main gauge of the government's popularity will be the number of abstentions. A recent poll suggested 38 per cent of registered voters would abstain, and official figures showed that just 38 per cent had voted by 4pm.

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