September 30, 2005

Algerians massively approve amnesty: minister

By Hamid Ould Ahmed

ALGIERS (Reuters) - Algerian voters overwhelmingly approved
a partial amnesty for hundreds of Islamic rebels intended to
end more than a decade of civil war, Interior Minister
Noureddine Zerhouni said on Friday.

"97.43 percent voted 'yes'," he told a news conference,
adding that almost 80 percent of the North African country's
18.3 million eligible voters took part.

The referendum on Thursday was on whether to approve a
"charter for peace and national reconciliation."

The long conflict isolated oil-producing Algeria amid
atrocities by rebels and allegations of crimes by security
forces. More than 150,000 people died, mostly civilians.

The provinces hardest hit by a decade of Islamic rebel
violence had seen participation in Thursday's referendum
exceeding 90 percent.

"Nobody can be against peace and nothing can be done
without peace. That's why I voted 'yes'," Slimane Azi, a
mechanic in a suburb of Algiers, told Reuters.

Voting was marred by violence in several provinces in the
east of the country, particularly in the restive Berber region
of Kabylie where opposition parties had called for a boycott.
Participation was 11.5 percent in Tizi Ouzou and Bejaia.

There were no independent organizations monitoring the
nationwide ballot and analysts questioned the high level of
participation given many polling stations were half-empty.

"I can't see why you would be surprised by the (high)
participation level," Zerhouni said. "The vote was done in
total transparency."

Some small opposition parties accuse President Abdelaziz
Bouteflika of using the referendum to strengthen his grip on
the Arab state. They also say Algeria should not put the bloody
past behind but seek accountability and the truth.

Human rights groups, including Amnesty International, say
the charter will sweep under the carpet horrendous abuses,
including the fate of thousands of missing persons.

The conflict began after the army canceled the second round
of Algeria's first multi-party legislative election, which the
Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) was on course to win in 1992.

Around 1,000 militants, most belonging to the Salafist
Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC), remain active and carry
out sporadic deadly attacks, mostly against soldiers.