Algerians vote to erase past

Algiers - In an election that authorities hope will erase the memory of a coup and a cancelled vote, Algerians are casting ballots today for their first multi-party parliament.

The 16 million voters will have to brave the risk of bombs and overcome a sense of hopelessness wrought by five years of a Muslim insurgency, a movement fed by desperation over unemployment and corruption.

Only the soldiers posted throughout Algiers hinted at the stakes in an election that President Liamine Zeroual sees as a step toward ending the insurgency in which 60,000 have died. Mr Zeroual hopes to widen the government's political base by restoring an elected parliament, which was scrapped five years earlier, sparking the insurgency.

The shadow of the 1992 parliamentary vote, cancelled in a coup to thwart victory by Muslim fundamentalists, was ever-present in campaign speeches, and in bombs that shook the capital this week.