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Wednesday, December 10, 1997 Published at 14:44 GMT



World

Algeria: country profile

The Democratic and Popular Republic of Algeria (Jaza'ir in Arabic), is the second largest country in Africa (after Sudan), and the 10th largest country in the world.

It was originally inhabited by the Berbers, an ethnic minority native to the region.

About 29 million people live there - three million of them in the capital, Algiers. The official language is Arabic, but French is widely spoken. The official religion is Islam.

The head of state is President Liamine Zeroual, who has wide-ranging executive powers. Algeria also has a Prime Minister, Ahmed Ouyahia, who was appointed in December 1995. There is an elected parliament, but the main opposition party, the Islamic Salvation Front, is banned: the source of most of the country's recent grief.

Economy

In 1996 Algeria was suffering 30% unemployment and inflation was running at 20%. Unemployment is likely to increase as economic reforms could lead to as many as 300,000 job losses over the next few years.There is also a severe housing crisis, above all in the capital.

Main political parties

  • National Liberation Front/ Front de Liberation Nationale(FLN): former ruling party
  • Islamic Salvation Front/ Front de Islamique du Salut (FIS): outlawed since April 1992
  • Socialist Forces Front/ Front des Forces Socialistes (FFS): main secular party.
  • Hamas: moderate Islamic party.
  • Rally for Culture and Democracy/Rassamblement pour la Culture et la Democratie (RCD): mainly Berber party.

Recent history

1962: Algeria gained independence from France on July 5 when the Evian Accords were signed. The country had been fighting a war of independence, led by the National Liberation Front (FLN), since 1954. More than one million Algerians were killed and two million internally displaced.

1963: The Secretary General of the FLN, Ahmed Ben Bella, introduced a draft Constitution, which provided for a presidential regime with the FLN as the sole political party. He was elected President in September 1963.

1965: Ben Bella was deposed and arrested in a coup led by Colonel Houari Boumedienne, the Defence Minister, in June 1965. Boumedienne established a Revolutionary Council, and made himself Prime Minister as well as Minister of Defence.

1976: In December 1976 Boumedienne became President and in March 1977 a National People's Assembly (NPA) of 261 FLN members was elected. Boumedienne died in 1978 and was replaced by Colonel Chadli Bendjedid.

1980s: In the mid-1980s the state of the Algerian economy was causing widespread unrest. Boumedienne had put in place rigid socialist economic policies which created inefficiency in the industrial and agricultural sectors. They produced high unemployment, inflation and a large foreign debt. The collapse of oil and gas prices worldwide in 1986 made the situation worse and the price of food increased.

1988: Street riots in October resulted in a bloody crackdown by the armed forces and the imposition of a State of Emergency.

1989: Disturbances continued and in July 1989 the ban on new political parties was revoked. The Ministry of the Interior permitted parties which were not externally funded or based solely on religious, regional or professional interests. Opposition parties could take part in elections and within a year more than 50 legal parties existed.

The Islamic Salvation Front (FIS), gained public support in the early 1990s. The FIS was well organised, and was based on a network of mosques and Islamic groupings. The urban poor looked to the FIS to provide grass-root welfare services, and a clear sense of social justice with the introduction of Sharia law.

The 1991 elections

Elections were initially due to be held in June 1991 but were postponed following protests about the new electoral law which placed restrictions on campaigning in mosques and alteration in constituencies to favour the ruling FLN.

A state of siege was declared and a military curfew was imposed. The leaders of the FIS, Abbasi Madani and Ali Belhadj, were arrested.

The first round of the general and presidential elections were held on December 26, 1991 and 59 political parties contested the elections. The FIS won 188 of the 231 seats contested in the first round elections. The FLN won only 15 seats, pushed into third place by the FFS who won 25 seats.

The Assembly was dissolved on January 4, 1992. President Chadli resigned on January 11, under pressure from the army which would not accept his willingness to share power with the FIS

An interim High Council of State was established, with Mohammed Boudiaf as its President, on January 14.

The second round of the elections were due to be held on January 16 but were cancelled when the army took control of key installations in the capital.

Violence escalates

Violent clashes between police and FIS protesters erupted throughout Algeria in early February 1992 and a State of Emergency was declared.

The FIS was dissolved and it split into different groups. Armed Islamic groups were formed and since 1992 have carried out attacks on key economic points, members of the security forces, politicians and officials, intellectuals and foreigners.

On December 24, 1994 an Air France Airbus A300 was highjacked at Algiers Airport by Islamic militants. The plane was allowed to fly to Marseilles two days later and was stormed by French commandos, resulting in the deaths of four hijackers and three hostages.

Liamine Zeroual was appointed President on January 31, 1994, with the task of overseeing the transitional period before new presidential and legislative elections were held.

On November 16 1995 Algeria's first multi-party Presidential Elections were held and the incumbent President Liamine Zeroual won with 60% of the vote - a poll which saw a 75% turnout.


 





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  Internet Links

Algeria information

Algeria - ArabNet

Window on Algeria

Algeria - Index on Africa


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