Hardline Algeria attacks foreign critics

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The Algerian government yesterday defended its hardline tactics in the battle against fundamentalist violence and defiantly rejected "foreign interference" in the country's affairs.

After a week of international concern over the instability gripping Algeria, the government's response is likely to deepen pessimism among European leaders about its future.

Speaking in Geneva, the Foreign Minister, Mohamed Salah Dembri, attacked Amnesty International for its latest report alleging serious violations of human rights by the military-backed regime.

"There is no repression in Algeria," Mr Dembri told journalists."There is only the duty of the state to ensure the security of people and property."

Some 30,000 people are believed to have died in a conflict between the security forces and Islamic militants, a developing crisis which prompted Nato this week to announce plans for new security links with other North African nations.

Mr Dembri saw"no political significance" in the exclusion of Algeria from the Nato plans. He said his government was waging "a battle of exemplary value to a vast geopolitical area which is facing a similar threat".

He added: "Europe itself is the base for terrorism and arms supplies directed against Algeria and other countries such as Egypt."

Making a rare public appearance abroad by a member of the Algerian cabinet, the Foreign Minister pledged direct presidential elections would be held later this year, followed by parliamentary and local elections "in 1996 or shortly afterwards".

Guerrilla war broke out in Algeria after the military cancelled elections in 1992 which the opposition Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) was expected to win.

Mr Dembri, who appeared to epitomise the reticent, old-style Algerian functionary, gave no hint of compromise with the FIS. He confirmed the FIS leader, Abbasi Madani, had been taken to hospital from house arrest, but, asked about his condition, replied:"I'm not his doctor."

Mr Dembri also appeared to rule out any participation in future elections by the FIS, which he described as "legally dissolved". He said the country's transitional government aimed to restore the rule of law and to conduct free elections open to "all whorespect political pluralism and the principle of alternating governments".