Military keeps its grip on Algeria

GENERAL Labbi Belkhair was the man who claimed that President Mohamed Boudiaf's assassin acted alone and on his own initiative. No one in Algeria was thus surprised yesterday to find that the new Prime Minister, Belaid Abdesselam, had fired the general as interior minister for what is now referred to as a 'lapse' in security.

Some lapse. It was, after all, General Belkhair who first confirmed that the man charged with the killing of Boudiaf was Lembarek Boumaref, an official bodyguard of the prime minister; that is to say, he worked for the state security service controlled by General Belkhair himself.

The new interior minister is Mohamed Hardi, a former secretary-general in the Information Ministry who - and this comes as a surprise to no one - is said to have close links to the Algerian security services.

The military authorities therefore maintain their supremacy over the Algerian government while still, officially, waiting for a report on the circumstances of Boudiaf's death at Annaba on 29 June. The new cabinet otherwise remains largely the same as that run by Mr Abdesselam's predececessor, Sid Ahmed Ghozali.

General Khaled Nezzar, the most powerful figure in the army, is still Minister of Defence, while Lakhdar Ibrahimi, perhaps the most intellectual and certainly the best-known personality in the cabinet, stays on as Foreign Minister.

Their mission, in theory at least, is that of Mohamed Boudiaf - whose own successor as President, Ali Khafi, is as silent in office as Boudiaf was loquacious: the crushing of political violence, the revival of the Algerian economy and the suppression of corruption.

But the shadow of Boudiaf's assassination - and the growing mystery over who planned his murder - has cast a dark reflection over the authorities here and their capacity to control events.

Certainly, there has been little decrease in the guerrilla war between the government and the Islamic groups which have taken up arms against it. Twelve electricity transmission lines have been cut in the past 24 hours and 2,000 telephone lines sabotaged at Blida, the town in which the two Islamic Salvation Front leaders were sentenced to 12 years' imprisonment last week. On Saturday night gunmen attacked the Constantine radio and television station for half an hour. Rifle fire could again be heard in Algiers early yesterday morning.

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