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Saturday, February 13, 1999 Published at 02:12 GMT


World: Middle East

Algeria to go to polls

The army has long played a major role in Algerian life

Outgoing Algerian President Liamine Zeroual has set 15 April as the date for elections to determine his successor in a race that could see as many as 40 candidates vying for the post.

Mr Zeroual announced in September that he was cutting short his five-year mandate and would not be standing for re-election.

Responding to complaints from opposition leaders about the army's role in the country's politics, the Algerian president said he was "fully determined to fulfil special constitutional commitments" for a fair and transparent election. He added that he would "enforce the neutrality of all the state's institutions".

The army has been a significant force in Algerian politics since independence from France 37 years ago with Mr Zeroual himself a former Army general.

The country plunged into violence in 1992 after the army-led authorities cancelled the general election in which radical Islamists had taken a commanding lead.

More than 80,000 people are estimated to have since been killed.

Fair election

Mr Zeroual said political parties had sought guarantees from him for a fair election and that some had complained the "results were known in advance".


[ image: President Zeroual: Called for fairness and transparency]
President Zeroual: Called for fairness and transparency
But he said: "Following consultations with heads of the political parties, I have pledged to take additional measures to strengthen the legal procedures to ensure transparency and deal with all the candidates on an equal footing," he said.

The president also used his brief televised speech to remind all government officials ''of their constitutional and legal duties to uphold neutrality".

"No one, whoever he is, can give himself the right to speak on behalf of the country's institutions unless he is clearly authorised to do so."

The authorities have set up a special panel to oversee the polls, known as the Independent National Commission for Monitoring the Presidential Election (CNISEP). It will be headed by Mohamed Bedjaoui, president of the International Court of Justice at The Hague.

Candidates

The Algerian president also urged his compatriots to turn out "massively" for the vote.

The final list of candidates is not yet known although around 40 Algerians have so far put themselves forward. Correspondents say only about 10 of these are likely to satisfy the necessary conditions to make the final ballot list.

Candidates already include former foreign ministers Abdelaziz Bouteflika and Ahmed Taleb Ibrahimi and former prime ministers Mouloud Hamrouche, Sid Ahmed Ghozali, Redha Malek and Mokdad Sifi.



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