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Last Updated: Wednesday, 2 July, 2003, 11:56 GMT 12:56 UK
Algeria frees Islamist leaders
Algerian mourning at a graveyard
The conflict has had a huge toll
The top two leaders of the outlawed Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) in Algeria have been freed from custody after serving their 12-year sentences.

FIS leader Abassi Madani, was released from house arrest and his deputy, Ali Belhadj, from prison in the town of Blida, south of Algiers.

But shortly after their release, the Algerian authorities announced that they were totally banned from all political activity.

The severe restrictions suggest the authorities are still worried the two Islamists may still be a force to be reckoned with, says the BBC's Heba Saleh.

The two men were arrested in 1991 after their party called for a general strike.

FIS went on to score a massive victory in parliamentary elections in 1992, but the result was cancelled after the army took over and FIS supporters and sympathisers became the target of severe repression from the state.

Radical Islamists responded by taking up arms - and the subsequent years of political violence left more than 100,000 Algerians dead.

The Front's own armed wing surrendered two years ago in return for an amnesty.

No comment

The two Islamist leaders served their sentences to the day.

Mr Belhadj, dressed in a traditional Algerian grey Djalaba robe and white hat, went straight to his local mosque in Algiers' Kouba district after being released, Reuters news agency reported.

Algerian street scene
In an oil-rich country, Algerians remain poor
He made no comments before about 100 followers greeting him. There was a large police presence at the mosque, according to Reuters.

The two men face a set of restrictions amounting to a total ban on all political and public activity.

They cannot vote, express political views in public or private, or belong to any associations.

The FIS leaders emerge from detention into a troubled political scene.

Presidential elections are due next year amid signs that the army, the real power-broker in the country, may have withdrawn its support from the incumbent Abdul Aziz Bouteflika, our correspondent says.

Restricting the Front's leaders may be aimed at preventing them from throwing their weight behind any of the potential candidates.

But more broadly, our correspondent says, the army is well aware that the populist rhetoric of the Islamists is likely to retain its appeal in a country suffering from corruption, unemployment and rising poverty.

Algeria's 'export of terror'
26 Feb 03  |  Africa
Country profile: Algeria
24 May 03  |  Country profiles

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