Islamists set price for end to 'holy war'

Paris bombing: Chirac puts more troops on streets and refuses to drop plans to meet Algerian leader as rebels list demands
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The Independent Online
The dark shadow of Algeria's civil war fell over France yesterday, as more troops moved on to the streets to reassure a public deeply worried by the prospect of further terrorist attacks. On the day after the eighth bomb in three months, close to the French Foreign Ministry at the Quai d'Orsay underground station, details emerged of a set of demands which established a direct link between French policy towards Algeria and Tuesday's bomb.

An Arabic-language newspaper circulated in France said the Algerian Armed Islamic Group (GIA) had set four conditions for stopping the attacks. Thought to have been communicated about a week ago, they included the cancellation of President Jacques Chirac's controversial meeting with the Algerian leader, Liamine Zeroual, at the UN next week.

The other demands were for an end to French aid to Algeria, the closure of the French embassy in Algiers and the condemnation of next month's presidential elections in Algeria, in which Mr Zeroual is a candidate.

The Foreign Ministry declined to comment on the conditions, but did not deny their existence. The GIA, regarded as the most extreme of Algeria's Islamic groups, acknowledged two weeks ago that it was behind the bombings. In a message addressed to French leaders, it described its campaign as a jihad, or holy war, against French support for the Algerian regime, and it called on Mr Chirac to convert to Islam.

In the National Assembly on Tuesday, the Prime Minister, Alain Juppe, devoted a whole section of his emergency statement on the latest bombing to relations with Algeria.

"France," he said, "has no intention at all of interfering in the slightest in the internal affairs of Algeria. The President has accepted the principle of meeting his Algerian counterpart in New York, at the latter's request, to express France's point of view." France "will not allow Algeria's problems to be transferred to French soil... [It] has every intention of continuing its dialogue with Algeria and no atrocity, however dastardly and random, will cause it to be silent".

At yesterday's regular cabinet meeting, Mr Chirac said French policy towards Algeria would not be changed by intimidation and that his meeting in New York should not be seen as "an act of support for anyone".

Despite the appearance of a united front among French leaders, policy towards Algeria is far from clear. The Chirac government inherited an ambiguous policy, which sought to bridge a gulf between "hardliners", led by the Interior Minister, Charles Pasqua, and "pragmatists", led by Mr Juppe, then Foreign Minister.

Mr Pasqua, who has enjoyed a conspicuous rapprochement with Mr Chirac recently, favoured a degree of support for the military government to counter Islamic extremism. He appeared to hold the paternalistic , ex- colonial view shared by many older people, that Algeria remains a moral responsibility of France. As foreign minister, Mr Juppe seemed more inclined to treat Algeria as a fully independent country. He also supported the idea of dialogue between Algiers and more moderate Islamic groups. Official policy amounted to continuing economic aid on the grounds that deprivation encouraged fundamentalism. Islamic groups see the aid as support for the regime.

Since he came to office, Mr Chirac has not clarified policy on Algeria, although aid has continued. His traditionalist Gaullism might be thought to align him with Mr Pasqua, and would explain his decision to meet Mr Zeroual. Mr Juppe, however, persisted on Tuesday in his call for dialogue between "all in Algeria" who eschew violence - in other words, with the moderate Islamic groups (who also object to the Chirac-Zeroual meeting).

Mr Chirac's decisionalso has provoked opposition in France. The Socialist leader, Lionel Jospin, a former diplomat, said the meeting was "inopportune" and that Mr Chirac ought to have waited until after the Algerian election. The silence of Mr Chirac's fellow Gaullists has been deafening.

Now the New York meeting has been so directly connected with the GIA attacks in France, though, Mr Chirac cannot cancel it without appearing to give in to terrorism. For this reason, Tuesday's Paris bomb probably will not be the last.