ALGIERS, May 25 (Reuters) - In the evening after last week's parliamentary polls, the narrow roads of Algeria's capital were tightly packed with honking cars, youths leaning out of windows, sunroofs and open boots, cheering and waving the national flag.
But they were not celebrating the third multi-party elections in the country's history - polls dubbed by the government as an important step towards democracy following 15 years of conflict.
Instead the youths, most of whom did not vote that day, were celebrating soccer team Entente Setif's victory in the Arab Champions League final over a Jordanian team. For young Algerians, playing and watching the game is an escape from dismal living conditions and poor prospects - a challenge which the government must meet urgently in a country where 70 percent of its 33 million people is aged under 30.
"I play here every Friday ... to keep the spirits up, to forget work, to forget problems," said 29-year-old Mohamed, as he watched kids running around a large asphalt playground-cum-car-park ringed by shabby apartments blocks.
In the late afternoons when the scorching heat fades every suitable and available space in Algiers is filled with young boys kicking a ball of some sorts around, oblivious to cars travelling sometimes at alarming speeds. In Mohamed's "Climat de France" quartier, not the poorest in the capital of 3.5 million, large families live in tiny flats packed into cement blocks adorned with satellite dishes and colourful clothes, carpets and rags hanging out to dry.
Two out of every three Algerians did not vote in the May 17 election - a record low turnout - and commentators placed the blame squarely on a parliament which they said had lost its effectiveness and relevance to the people's plight.
The government, they said, needed urgently to reconnect with the masses. Two big obstacles stand in the way of a good life for young people in Algeria - both jobs and housing are extremely difficult to find.
Sitting on an empty truck, 26 year-old Baraket said he had little hope of finding work as a security guard because "you really need to know someone to find something". Asked whether he voted last week, he laughed.
"I didn't think it would change anything," he said. But he did profit from the polls - he was one of the many who manned polling booths attracted more by the 2,000 dinars ($28) offered for the day's work than a sense of electoral duty.
"Everyone in Algeria lives with their parents. Even if they are 40 years old ... 50 years old, they all live with their parents," said a 26-year old sitting with his girlfriend, both of whom asked not to be named, on a beach promenade.
Although he works on the black market and she is studying, he said there was only one escape for them - France. "Five days ago they refused my visa. It's the third or fourth time."
"I want to build my future. I want to marry her, for example," he said, prodding the 22-year old girl playfully. "But if I stay in Algeria, there's nothing I could do. There's no housing, there's no work, there's nothing."
Algeria's youth and sports minister, Yahia Guiddoum, said the youth's main problems were not dissimilar to those around the world - essentially the need for a secure future. But, he conceded, the last decade's turmoil had taken its toll.
"The youths are older than their age ...(They) have lost their childhood," he told Reuters. "There was a divorce ... the adults did not understand the youth. Now we are listening."
Most, apart from the youngest of children, remember the bloody undeclared civil war that raged in the 1990s.
Begun after an election in 1992 was cancelled, an Islamist-led uprising produced massacres in the countryside, assassinations and factional guerrilla warfare by all sides of the conflict in which an estimated 200,000 people have died.
Despite a triple suicide bombing in April that killed 33, the violence has sharply dropped off since the government introduced a largely-successful reconciliation programme that gives amnesty to insurgents willing to put down their weapons.
Guiddoum said reconciliation also to take place between youths and adults. Projects such as building schools and encouraging sports are all part of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika's $140 billion spending plan.
In the Climat de France playground, teenagers relate stories of living at home, and children cheerfully shout out jobs - "Doctor! Professors! Singer! Football player!" - when asked what they wanted to be when they grow up.
Then suddenly, deep inside a narrow alley leading to one apartment block, a young man screams:
"We have nothing! We have lost everything! We are lost!" And the youths break out into a cheer.
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25th May 2007 13:21 #1Super Moderator
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Young Algerians see scant hope for future