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Last Updated: Friday, 30 September 2005, 10:51 GMT 11:51 UK
Algerian voters back peace plan
Man voting in Algiers
Many say they want to put the past behind them
Algerians have overwhelmingly approved a government peace plan aimed at ending a decade-long civil war that left about 100,000 dead.

More than 97% of voters in Thursday's referendum backed a plan to grant amnesty to many Islamic militants, the interior minister said.

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

They want an account for the thousands who disappeared during the conflict.

Interior Minister Nourredine Yazid Zerhouni told a news conference 97.43% had voted "Yes".

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

But the BBC's Pascale Harter in Algiers says awkward questions were asked when he said 79% of Algerians had turned out to vote.

Some journalists on the ground saw only a trickle of voters going into polling stations, she adds.

Step backward

However the outcome means the government of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika can press forward with its Charter for Peace and National Reconciliation.

The charter pardons militants - except those who took part in mass murder, public bombings and rapes - and will shorten the sentences of those in prison.

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

It also offers compensation for the families of the victims.

President Bouteflika says the charter - which follows a 1999 vote for reconciliation that led many militants to lay down their weapons - is the only way for Algeria to modernise and strengthen its ties with the West.

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

And critics say the grounds for those militants excluded from the amnesty are too vague and too few.

Families of the victims have called the charter 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.

People tired

But many Algerians - who, like their economy, are exhausted from the long civil war - want to put the country's bloody past behind them and move on.

"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.

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 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.

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.





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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