General assumes presidency

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ALGIERS - After two years of military-backed rule by a 'High State Council', an Algerian general is to take over the country's presidency today in a last attempt to avert full-scale civil war between Islamic militants and the government, writes Robert Fisk.

General Lamine Zeroual, the Minister of Defence, is a career artillery officer who commanded army units in every major city and was director of the country's principal military college.

It will be the General's task to talk to the banned Islamic Salvation Front - who stood to win a second round of parliamentary elections cancelled two years ago - or use his 100,000-strong army to destroy the armed Islamic uprising taking hold across Algeria.

The General warned last month that the army would not 'stand idly by' if the country were endangered. An official admitted that his appointment might be described as a 'legal' coup d'etat, but it will be welcomed by secular and middle-class Algerians.