- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 30, 2002

ALGIERS The North African nation of Algeria holds legislative elections today amid a new ethnic Berber revolt and an Islamist terror movement that has killed 100,000 people in 10 years.

Berbers and other parties have called for a boycott, saying the government of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika plans massive fraud. They and other Algerians also say the government rules with the help of shadowy military powers and despite billions in oil and gas income per year has not ended unemployment and corruption.

Activists among the 5 million Berbers in their Kabylie homeland east of the capital, Algiers, burned ballot boxes yesterday and vowed the elections would not take place.

The former French colony of 31 million people still faces intermittent massacres attributed to extreme Islamists, many of them trained by Osama bin Laden during and after the 1980-1990 Afghan-Soviet War.

Mr. Bouteflika told The Washington Times during a visit to the United States last year that the terrorism that killed tens of thousands of Algerians springs from the same roots as that which brought down the World Trade Center.

All 389 seats in the lower house of parliament, the National Popular Assembly, are at stake as Mr. Bouteflika's National Democratic Rally, or RND, tries to maintain its hold on power against a moderate Islamic party nicknamed "Hamas" but officially called the Movement for Peaceful Society, or MSP.

The socialist-style National Liberation Front, or FLN, which ruled Algeria until 1989 as a one-party government after winning a bloody eight-year war of liberation against France in 1962, was expected to increase its 62-seat holding. One Algerian said "a purge" of the old guard and addition of younger technocrats had improved its image.

The nation remains deeply divided into those who support an Islamic state and those who favor keeping secular government. On Monday, the leader of the MSP, Mahfoud Nahnah, told a final election rally that he offered "tribute to those who took up the resistance because their victory in the 1991 elections was confiscated."

The government in 1991 aborted legislative elections when extreme Islamists appeared certain to win. That set off a civil war marked by mass killings.

Even in recent weeks, dozens of men, women and children had their throats slit by militants. But the death toll now runs at about 100 per month, compared with roughly 1,000 per month a few years ago. Critics say the death toll includes those killed by security forces as well as by militants.


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