Battle of Algerian polls

ALGIERS - Algerians, shaken by suicide bombings in the capital last month, voted yesterday for a new parliament that is expected to remain dominated by the three parties of the governing coalition.

ALGIERS - Algerians, shaken by suicide bombings in the capital last month, voted yesterday for a new parliament that is expected to remain dominated by the three parties of the governing coalition.

Attacks by Islamist groups have threatened the north African country's attempts to rebuild itself after years of political bloodshed, prompting police to search voters as they entered polling stations.

In the crowded Bab El Oued district of Algiers, state bank employee Mohammed Kemmeche said: "These elections will not change the situation. But I am voting to express my opposition to criminals who don't want to stop killing Algerians."

The presidency is the most powerful office of state in Algeria, a supplier of oil and gas to north America and Europe.

Algerians regard parliament as subservient to the executive.

In the Casbah, the crumbling Turkish-era old city where French paratroopers fought pro-independence guerrillas in the 1957 Battle of Algiers, some voters were upbeat.

Aicha Bachi, a middle-aged woman, said: "I am here because I want to take part in boosting national reconciliation. Our country also needs to launch a real war on poverty and unemployment."

Social problems are still Algerians' main concern, with unemployment among adults younger than 30 at a dismal 75percent.

The poll to choose the 389 members of the lower house of parliament is the third since an Islamist revolt erupted after the cancellation of a national election in January 1992, which a now-outlawed Muslim fundamentalist party was poised to win.

Up to 200000 people have been killed in political bloodshed since.

The violence has dropped sharply in recent years, but lingers on. A triple bombing claimed by AlQaeda killed 33 people in Algiers on April 11. One policeman was killed when two small bombs exploded in the eastern city of Constantine on Wednesday.

AlQaeda's North Africa wing has called on Algerians to boycott the election, which it condemned as a "farce". Some observers expect the rebels to try to disrupt polling.

Final results will be announced this morning. - Reuters

X