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Friday, September 17, 1999 Published at 20:40 GMT 21:40 UK

World: Africa

Algerian vote 'victory for peace'

President Abdelaziz Bouteflika has told Algerians that the results of the referendum were an important victory for peace.

Speaking on Algerian TV following the referendum in which he received overwhelming support for his moves to promote reconciliation, Mr Bouteflika said the result was "in the interests of all Algerians".

The BBC's Jim Muir in Algeria: "Most people are sick and tired of conflict."
The turnout was strongest in areas badly hit by the violence, but fell below 50% in eastern areas - regarded as opposition strongholds.

The president called on the country to work together to create a better future in Algeria, where an estimated 100,000 people have been killed in seven years of civil strife.

"We must work to bring the day closer when we pass beyond mere hope, when our tears dry once and for all and when our children smile again," he said.

[ image:  ]
The president also appealed to armed Islamists in Algeria to join his "civil concord" initiative and warned them of retaliation if they did not.

"I again appeal to them formally today to think again. The law is tolerant and the people, in their huge generosity, have granted them leniency," he said

The result has been welcomed by France - the former colonial power. Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine said the vote reinforced the authority of President Bouteflika, who has promised drastic action to tackle the country's social and economic problems.

Overwhelming support

Algerian Interior Minister Abdelmalek Sellal said 98.63% of the voters in the national referendum had said "yes" to the question: "Do you agree with the steps by the President of the Republic towards civil concord?"

[ image: Those who voted did so for peace]
Those who voted did so for peace
Earlier, the ministry announced that 85% of Algeria's 17.5 million voters had cast a ballot.

With the main points of the civil reconciliation plan already enacted - a partial amnesty for Islamic militants - the turnout was seen as crucial to the president's credibility.

In the Algiers Casbah, a stronghold of Islamic militancy, one veiled woman said: "I expect peace. Of course, I voted yes."

Shopkeeper Abdullah Assaba told the French news agency AFP: "I voted 'yes' because it's my future, it's the future of my children."

Correspondents say Mr Bouteflika saw the vote as an opportunity to regain credibility lost in the presidential poll in April, when all six other candidates withdrew, alleging that the army was plotting to rig the vote in his favour.

Seven-year conflict

[ image:  ]
The civil accord is aimed at ending seven years of bloody conflict with Islamist militants triggered by the suspension of elections in 1992 which the Islamists were poised to win.

Under the law, those who have no blood on their hands will go free, though they may be put on probation for a period of time.

Those guilty of murder, rape or the placing of bombs will be prosecuted, but there will be no death penalty and no prison sentence longer than 20 years.

Jim Muir in Algeria: "Mr Bouteflika could hardly have hoped for a better set of figures."
Hundreds of Islamists serving prison sentences have already been released - though many more remain behind bars, and many of the thousands who disappeared have not been freed or accounted for.

The rebels have until January to hand themselves in. After that, our correspondent says, the signs are that Mr Bouteflika will move against them mercilessly - armed, he hopes, with a clear display of public support.

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