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Thursday, 10 October, 2002, 22:35 GMT 23:35 UK
Berber riots rock Algerian poll
Riot police in Tizi-Ouzou
Berbers see themselves as a persecuted minority
Rioting in Algeria's ethnic Berber region has marred local elections with at least five people injured in clashes with police.

Elsewhere, voting ended smoothly in elections seen as a test of political stability under President Abdelaziz Bouteflika.

Mr Bouteflika has vowed to restore peace to this country of about 30 million which has seen tens of thousands killed in fighting with Islamic militants since 1992.

Berbers protesting at what they see as discrimination by the majority Arab population seized ballot-boxes and burnt down polling-stations in the Kabylie region.

Building barricades, they hurled stones at riot police, beefed up to a strength of 20,000 by the government in the run-up to the election.

Police fired tear gas near the Kabylie city of Bejaia to break up protesters as they attacked polling-stations and tried to burn ballot-boxes.

In the city of Tizi-Ouzou, at least five protesters were wounded, one of them seriously, in clashes with the security forces.

Interior Minister Noureddine later announced that voting was disrupted in 20 of the 67 municipalities in Tizi Ouzou Province and 19 out of 52 municipalities in Bejaia Province.

Bouteflika's party ahead

National election results are due to be released at around 1100 GMT on Friday but analysts already predict that President Bouteflika's ruling National Liberation Front (FLN) will capitalise on its May general election victory and win most of the votes.

Correspondents say that while local elections have limited significance in Algeria, a successful vote is seen as shoring up the president's portrayal of Algeria as a stable democracy, attractive to foreign investors.

Voters in Staouili, west of Algiers
The vote passed off peacefully in most of the country
However, in addition to the Berber unrest, attacks attributed to Islamic militants continue, with massacres of civilians routinely reported

In the Berber region, politicians called a boycott of the vote as part of their continuing campaign for greater recognition.

But one Berber party, the Socialist Forces Front, broke ranks and rejected the boycott.

A security clampdown in Kabylie in the spring of 2001 left some 100 people dead.

The Berbers, who have their own language and make up at least a fifth of Algeria's population, are demanding greater rights from the central government.

See also:

09 Oct 02 | Media reports
31 May 02 | Middle East
19 Aug 02 | Business
18 Mar 02 | Country profiles
18 Mar 02 | Middle East
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