Chaos as Algeria votes in France

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The Independent Online
MARY DEJEVSKY

Paris

There was chaos over the weekend as thousands of Algerians living in France voted in their country's presidential election.

The election, which takes place in Algeria on Thursday, offers a choice of candidates - four - for the first time since Algeria became independent in 1962, but because of an opposition boycott, the turnout is regarded as crucial.

Seven parties and the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) have refused to take part, seeing the vote as an attempt by the military-backed regime to gain legitimacy following cancelled parliamentary elections in 1991. In France, however, where there are more than 630,000 Algerian voters, participation appeared to be high.

In central Paris, queues formed at 6am. By 9.30, the vast expanse of the Champs-Elysees and the Avenue de la Grande Armee was empty in preparation for the Armistice Day ceremonies, while on one side, a dense crush of would-be Algerian voters waited under the watchful eye of the riot police.

Such scenes were repeated at many of the 22 other voting centres across France. In Marseilles and Lyons, dozens were injured in the crush. In Nice, order broke down and voting was suspended for three hours. The average waiting time in Paris was five hours. It had been planned to spread the voting in France across six days, but two weeks ago the authorities reduced the number of days to three, citing security precautions following recent bomb attacks.

Since the fracas last month over President Jacques Chirac's cancelled meeting with President Liamine Zeroual of Algeria at the UN, France has taken a detached approach to the election. All campaigning in France was banned.

Algeria's consul-general in Paris, Zourir Messani, saidmany Algerians wanted not only to exercise their democratic rights but to show French people, shocked by the bombs, that Algerians were "law-abiding people who respected the democratic process".

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