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Last Updated: Friday, 30 September 2005, 00:39 GMT 01:39 UK
Algerians vote on amnesty plans
Man voting in Algiers
Many say they want to put the past behind them
The counting of votes has begun after an Algerian referendum meant to end a decade-long civil war that left 100,000 dead and thousands missing.

A "Yes" vote would endorse government plans to grant an amnesty to many of those jailed for the killings.

Interior Minister Nourredine Yazid Zerhouni said final turnout was 79.49%, with results due on Friday.

Opposition groups had urged a boycott, saying there could be no reconciliation without proper justice.

They want the authorities to account for the thousands of people who simply disappeared during the conflict.

We are fed up with the tears - it's time to forget the past and build a future
Amina
Voter in Algiers

The civil war started after the military cancelled the second round of the 1992 legislative elections, which the extremist Islamic Salvation Front was expected to win.

According to the interior ministry, up to 1,000 insurgents are still active.

People tired

President Abdelaziz Bouteflika's Charter for Peace and National Reconciliation is meant to help modernise Algeria and strengthen its ties with the West, correspondents say.

The document also offers compensation for the families of the victims.

Those found responsible for massacres, rapes and bombings in public places are excluded from the amnesty, but critics say the grounds for their exclusion are too vague and too few.

ALGERIA'S AMNESTY
Affects security forces and Islamist insurgents
Murderers, rapists and bombers excluded
Compensation for victims
18m eligible to vote
Opposition urge 'No' vote, demanding justice

The measure is likely to pass because the country, its people and the economy are exhausted from the long civil war, says the BBC's Ian Pannell in Algiers.

He says people are desperate to put the country's bloody past behind them and move on with their lives.

"We are fed up with the tears. It's time to forget the past and build a future," said Amina as she cast her vote in the capital, Algiers.

Another said he was voting because he wanted reconciliation.

"I hope the situation will change for the better," Mohammed Mammar told Reuters news agency.

Most ballot boxes closed on time at 2000 (1900 GMT), though voting was extended in some areas. Step backward

But with the fate of more than 6,000 of the disappeared still unknown, many Algerians remain unconvinced by the president's charter.

Women holding pictures of missing relatives stage protest in Algiers
I am against the idea of forgiving killers. They must face the same fate as their victims
Ahmed Kennache
Algiers resident

Families of the victims say the charter is a step backwards for democracy as it clears the state from responsibility without any of the cases ever having been investigated.

"I do not want the government to give me money to compensate the loss of my son," said Cherguin Jguiga.

"I want it to tell me the truth, and why the security forces kidnapped him - not more but not less."

"I am against the idea of forgiving killers. They must face the same fate as their victims," Ahmed Kennache said in Algiers.

Government forces are suspected of being responsible for at least some of the murders and disappearances.

Amnesty International says the document therefore absolves the military of their role in the human rights abuses, and prevents other crimes from being investigated.




BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
Hear what Algerians think of the current peace




SEE ALSO:
Q&A: Algerian referendum
28 Sep 05 |  Africa
Timeline: Algeria
14 Apr 05 |  Country profiles
Country profile: Algeria
13 Jul 04 |  Country profiles
Algeria to vote on amnesty plan
14 Aug 05 |  Africa


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