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Algerians In France Play a Part

Some 630,000 Algerians residing in France headed to the polls under tight security this week to elect their own representatives to the new Algerian parliament. The vote marks the first time that the expatriate community has been able to elect its own representatives. But unlike the November 1995 presidential election, when voters thronged polling places in Paris, this week's vote has generated little enthusiasm.

"I just don't believe in this election. Algeria has a dictatorship, and the vote won't change anything," says Aissa, an Algerian student living in Paris, who asked that his family name not be used.

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"I've seen the campaign posters, but I have no idea who the candidates are. There are too many parties, and no one knows who is who," he adds, explaining his decision not to go to the polls this time.

Algerians living abroad will elect eight of the 380 seats in the National Assembly; four are in France, where most Algerian expatriates live.

Ballot centers in Paris, as well as other major French cities such as Lille and Marseilles, opened June 2 and will remain open through the vote in Algeria June 5. Fourteen parties are represented, but few candidates have name recognition in Paris.

Many in France's Algerian community fled the violence that has killed more than 60,000 people in Algeria, a former French colony. A wave of bombing attacks in Paris and other French cities last year linked to Algerian terrorists has left the French capital on alert, especially during Algerian elections this week. Police and riot squads are a strong presence in and around polling places.

Meanwhile, France's June 1 vote, which returned the Socialists to power, met with a cool reception in Algeria's official circles. "The return to power of the Socialist Party does not bode well [for Franco-Algerian relations]," editorialized the Algerian daily El Watan, which blames Socialists for encouraging the development of expatriate groups in France that it deems subversive.

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