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Saturday, 20 January, 2001, 20:36 GMT
Algerian president under pressure
President Bouteflika
Bouteflika offered amnesty to some Islamic militants
By Middle East analyst Roger Hardy

Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika is coming under increasing attack for what many see as the failure of his policy of national reconciliation.

More than 100 people have been killed so far this year in Algeria in a wave of violence that seems to doom President Abdelaziz Bouteflika's efforts to promote national reconciliation.

At least 23 people were killed in a massacre on Saturday in an isolated hamlet of farmers and herders in the north-western Algeria, according to residents.

For a decade, the country has been wracked by a violent conflict between the security forces and armed Islamic groups, but when Mr Bouteflika came to power in 1999, he promised to end the violence and usher in a new era of national harmony.

New era promised

During his first months in power, President Bouteflika enjoyed a remarkable honeymoon.

Algerian police
Security forces have been fighting Islamic militants since 1992
He offered an amnesty to some of the Islamic militants who'd been fighting the army since 1992 -- and more than 5,000 militants laid down their arms.

Algerians badly wanted to believe this was a turning point in a conflict which had claimed 100,000 lives.

Abroad, too, the president - a former foreign minister - launched a charm offensive, improving Algeria's relations with the West and even with its former colonial master, France.

Media criticism

But the violence has gone on, even though nowadays the Western media seldom report it - and Mr Bouteflika has recently come under a barrage of media criticism for the failure of his much-trumpeted policy of national reconciliation.

In a move which has provoked much speculation, one of his predecessors, Chadli Benjedid, has broken a long silence and given interviews justifying his actions in the run-up to what's widely known as the "coup" of 1992 - when the military pushed President Chadli aside and cancelled elections the main Islamist party was poised to win.

Some see Chadli's rehabilitation as a warning to Mr Bouteflika from the country's powerful generals that they, and they alone, can make or break an Algerian president.

Whispering campaign

The generals gave the green light for Mr Bouteflika to become president in 1999.

But now it seems some of them - irritated by his tendency to pursue his own agenda rather than theirs - may be orchestrating a whispering campaign against him.

As the political manoeuvring continues in the opaque world of Algerian politics, most Algerians look on with a feeling of alienation and helplessness.

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14 Apr 99 | Middle East
Eyewitness: A state of fear
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