ALGIERS (AFP) - Algerian youths working on fixed-term contracts for the government took to the streets Sunday threatening to boycott the May 10 legislative polls if they were not awarded permanent jobs.
Some 200 protesters claiming to represent 600,000 youths on pre-employment civil service contracts nationwide staged a demonstration in Algiers waving banners and placards.
They also demanded the release of Abdelkader Kherba, a detained unemployed rights activists who faces three years in jail and whose health has been described as critical two weeks into a hunger strike.
"If our demands are not met and Abdelkader Kherba is not freed, we call for a boycott of the vote and will demonstrate on polling day, across the country," one of the protest's organisers, civil service union leader Malika Falil, told AFP.
She charged that the state was luring thousands of young Algerians into short-term contracts with the prospect of permanent jobs to massage unemployment statistics.
"What is happening is that they are being worked to the bone only to become jobless again," Falil said.
According to the latest International Monetary Fund report on Algeria, unemployment among the North African country's youth stands at 21 percent.
"Boutef, listen to us," shouted some of the protesters, addressing Algeria's veteran President Abdelaziz Bouteflika. "Employment is a right, not a favour you're doing us."
Around two-thirds of the population is under 35 in Algeria, where voters are called to choose 462 lawmakers in May 10 legislative polls.
Bouteflika, who was a minister in Algeria's first post-independence government in 1962, has been spared the Arab Spring revolts that swept neighbouring Tunisia and Libya.
He has nonetheless faced -- and mostly satisfied -- a string of demands by workers unions for pay rises. His government has also launched a series of reforms it bills as a major democratic advance.
In a separate incident Sunday, a man set himself on fire in protest at the demolition of his shop, sparking clashes between security forces and several youths in the town of Jijel, about 360 kilometres east of Algiers.
The young shopkeeper was taken to hospital, said news agency APS, while protesters threw objects at a public building where security forces were deployed.
The clashes spread to several areas in Jijel and disrupted traffic, forcing the National Front for Social Justice party to cancel a campaign rally.