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Last Updated: Thursday, 3 July, 2003, 15:00 GMT 16:00 UK
Algeria mulls Islamists' release
FIS Deputy Party Chief Ali Belhadj on his release after 12 years in prison
Ali Belhadj's release has attracted huge media interest

The release of the two top leaders of the outlawed Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) attracts considerable attention in the Algerian press.

Party chief Abassi Madani and deputy Ali Belhadj were freed on Wednesday after serving 12-year sentences, but are still barred from all political activity.

Most papers comment on the refusal by Mr Belhadj to sign the highly restrictive release conditions.

The Arabic-language Saout El-Ahrar says it shows Mr Belhadj is still committed to the "familiar method of struggle", adding that his visit to a TV station only a few hours after his release was "strong evidence of his intention to continue a policy of opposition".

'Fanatical'

A commentator in the anti-FIS French-language Liberte concurs.

Ali Belhadj is forced today to be wise and rein in the whims of his violent tendencies in order not to lead the country into a new vortex of violence
Al-Fadjr

Mr Belhadj, the report says, is still "determined". In fact, he has become "more fanatical and more committed to his project".

Another French-language paper, Le Quotidien d'Oran, asks: "Why is Ali Belhadj still frightening?"

The FIS' number two, it argues, wants to turn back the clock.

"He has not changed. His frail figure adorned with his grey shirt and cap is the same as 12 years ago. His facial features are the same - agitated and angry," it observes.

El-Watan believes that the release of the two will "take Algerians back, at least for a little while, to the events of 1990-1992" and the violence that followed.

FIS won a landslide victory in parliamentary elections in 1992, but the result was cancelled after the military took over, triggering a decade of bloodshed.

La Tribune also argues that Algerians will not forget the years of violence or the victims of terror, but it welcomes the fact that Mr Belhadj's release has not coincided with an increase in Islamist activities.

2003 does not resemble 1993 from the point of view of security, stability and optimism about the future, despite the attempts by terrorists... to shed doubt on the process of national concord
Ech-Chaab

Al-Fadjr contends that "the Algerian street is not the same as that of '91, which had no concept of Salafi religious extremism."

"Ali Belhadj is forced today to be wise and rein in the whims of his violent tendencies in order not to lead the country into a new vortex of violence," it comments.

An editorial in the government paper Ech-Chaab is also upbeat about the current situation.

"The return of security and stability to the homeland has advanced in great strides. It is axiomatic that 2003 does not resemble 1993 from the point of view of security, stability and optimism about the future, despite the attempt by the terrorists and those revolving in their orbit to shed doubt on the process of national concord."

Media coverage

But the sensitive nature of the releases has prompted the Algerian authorities to restrict coverage by foreign journalists, and the level of media interest has become a topic for discussion in itself.

Al-Fadjr questions the amount of attention the releases have elicited.

"Why do some want to make of the release of two prisoners who are a danger to society an event? Why waste time commenting on a non-event and then waste more time commenting on the commentary?" it says.

Liberte also asks whether "Belhadj's release actually requires all this media interest," adding: "Does it contain the elements of a big political event?"

The reason, it concludes, is that the release is "a source of concern at more than one level".

BBC Monitoring, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.




SEE ALSO:
Algeria frees Islamist leaders
02 Jul 03  |  Africa
Algeria's 'export of terror'
26 Feb 03  |  Africa


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