Algerian forces prevent opposition rally on violence


ALGERIAN security forces yesterday prevented leading opposition politicians from staging a rally to demand dialogue with outlawed Islamists and an end to bloodshed in the north African country.

The opposition had earlier threatened to defy a government ban on street protests by staging a rally. Instead, it avoided a confrontation and carried out a peaceful march and laid a wreath near the site of a car bomb which killed 42 people last week.

Witnesses said the authorities drew a security belt around the Belcourt district in central Algiers where the rally and wreath laying were expected to take place. However, hundreds of protesters managed to reach Belouizdad avenue to lay a wreath some metres away from the bombing site", said one resident.

Residents reported no arrests or incidents during the march, organised by the Signatories of Peace Call a group of politicians which represent several opposition parties, including the main secular opposition Socialist Forces Front, as well as prominent figures such as writers, intellectuals and former ministers.

The Peace Call group wants a dialogue established between the opposition, including moderate leaders of the banned Islamic Salvation Front, and the government to end the civil strife which has killed more than 60,000 since 1992.

In a speech on Friday, President Liamine Zeroual criticised the country's legal opposition for having a hidden agenda of surrendering Algeria to Muslim guerrillas. He also attacked the opposition for hiding behind "the calls for peace . . . calls whose sole truth lies in an invitation to the Algerian people to resign themselves to assassination, destruction and hegemony".

The Peace Call group says hundreds of thousands of Algerians support healing the country's wounds through a peaceful solution.

The government also ordered independent newspapers on Saturday not to play into the hands of "terrorist propaganda". Algerian authorities have draconian powers over the press but independent papers have walked a tightrope in giving details of killings, uncleared by the authorities who until recently repeatedly said only "residual terrorism" remained.

Algeria's main independent dailies all reported more killings in the conflict which broke out five years ago after the authorities cancelled a general election dominated by the Islamic Salvation Front. Le Matin said more than 250 people had been killed in the two weeks since the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan on January 10th.