Algiers woos radicals in battle for peace

THE release from prison of the two paramount leaders of the outlawed Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) is a make-or-break move by the government to end Algeria's bloody insurgency which has claimed 10,000 lives in two-and-a-half years. The FIS leadership in exile yesterday welcomed news of the releases as 'important but insufficient' and called for the release of all other FIS activists.

Abassi Madani and Ali Belhadj were taken on Tuesday from the military prison at Blida south of Algiers to a residence in the capital where they will be kept under house arrest. A presidential spokesman made assurances that the two men would be allowed to have full contact with FIS activists. Three other members of the FIS ruling council were also freed.

The move was a reversal by President Liamine Zeroual of the policy of excluding the FIS from the political process. In June 1991 the government jailed the two FIS leaders, and in January 1992 the army stepped in when the FIS were on the verge of a historic victory in the general elections. Mr Zeroual, not part of the cabal of officers who took power then, succeeded president Mohamed Boudiaf after Boudiaf's assassination in June 1992. Mr Zeroual has had to overcome opposition from hardliners in the military known as the 'eradicators' who were opposed to any accommodation with the Islamist movement.

The FIS statement called for a 'just, legitimate and durable solution allowing the return of stability in our country and giving the Algerian people the basis for building a civilised society based on the principles of Islam'.

The statement made no mention of a truce. What will emerge over the coming days is the extent to which these two veteran leaders still command the loyalty and discipline of FIS membership over this huge country. Their release could either provoke further attacks by the extremist Islamic Armed Group (GIA), which has been behind the bloodier assaults on foreigners and others, or could lead to defections from the GIA now that an Islamist political alternative has official sanction.

Talks on a national dialogue between the government and opposition groups are due to resume on Tuesday. Whatever powersharing arrangements might be devised between the regime and the FIS to solve problems on the political level, the country faces huge economic and social problems which have only worsened since the election. For years the state was the main employer, providing incomes for a largely non-productive workforce out of revenues from oil and gas. The slump in oil prices hit Algeria at a time of rapid population growth, unemployment and foreign debt. The successful rescheduling of part of its massive pounds 17.5bn debt after reaching agreement in April with the IMF will provide only limited respite.

If the dialogue fails, there are increased risks that the hardliners within the army could intervene again. This time France has indicated that it would not support them, and is in favour of national reconciliation.

The Algerian move will also have regional implications. Neighbouring Tunisia has tried to suppress its more moderate Islamist movement, but calls will increase in this more Westernised country for greater dialogue with the political opposition.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Personal Tax Senior

£28000 - £37000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Customer and Markets Development Executive

£22000 - £29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company's mission is to ma...

Recruitment Genius: Guest Services Assistant

£13832 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This 5 star leisure destination on the w...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Account Manager

£20000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Account Manager is requ...

Day In a Page

A nap a day could save your life - and here's why

A nap a day could save your life

A midday nap is 'associated with reduced blood pressure'
If men are so obsessed by sex, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?

If men are so obsessed by sex...

...why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?
The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3

Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner

The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3
The bathing machine is back... but with a difference

Rolling in the deep

The bathing machine is back but with a difference
Part-privatised tests, new age limits, driverless cars: Tories plot motoring revolution

Conservatives plot a motoring revolution

Draft report reveals biggest reform to regulations since driving test introduced in 1935
The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory