- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 11, 2002

TUNIS, Tunisia A large region of neighboring Algeria faces the specter of political and economic exclusion after that country's recent legislative elections, according to North Africa experts.

The mostly mountainous area of Kabylia east of Algeria has defied the army-backed government and boycotted the May 30 vote, which strengthened the dominant National Liberation Front (FLN) of Prime Minister Ali Benflis. Less than 2 percent of the voters went to the polls.

"Ballot boxes burned, thousands of ballots were strewn in the streets, policemen were forced to retreat to their barracks," wrote the French-language Algiers daily Le Matin in describing the vote.

According to Al Watan, another Algiers daily, "the tortured region is destined to be absent from the National Assembly, its deputies elected under a cloud, or rather not elected, representing only themselves and their party."

North African analysts say the recent government decision authorizing the Berber Tamazight dialect as one of Algeria's official languages fell dramatically short of Berber demands for autonomy and economic concessions.

The Kabylia area of breathtaking mountains and red-roofed villages is inexorably heading toward isolation damaging to its inhabitants and to the very concept of Algerian unity, these experts claim.

The heartland of Algeria's war of independence in the late 1950s, Kabylia, is facing a "ghetto-like existence" in its mountain bastion, analysts say, "a stepchild" of modern Algeria since its independence from France in 1962.

Between 6 million and 7 million of Algeria's 30 million inhabitants are Berber, concentrated in Kabylia.

Western diplomats consider Algeria's recent legislative elections as a major blow to President Abdelaziz Bouteflika and his policy of "national concord." The vote was followed by accusations of fraud and an avalanche of protests even by candidates of the dominant FLN.

The FLN won 199 of the 389 parliamentary seats, up from 68 in the previous assembly. The Rally for National Democracy was second with 48 seats.

Interior Minister Yazid Zerhouni described the vote as "proof of the return of trust in our institutions."

Redha Malek, one of the opposition leaders, said the result of the elections was "an indication of the government's bankruptcy and inability to contain the crisis."

Wrote Algiers' Le Matin:

"President Bouteflika now knows: he is in a minority in the country. The Algerians, tired by three years of inertia and sterile chatter, want no further part of him. When 54 percent of voters refuse to respond to an appeal from a head of state, it is a humiliating disavowal, a serious political crisis."

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