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Algeria

Yearbook 1997

Algeria. The unimaginable acts of violence that have taken place since the Islamists were deprived of victory in the 1992 general elections became more and more bestial. The guesswork on the number of victims of the conflict was written up to at least 80,000, perhaps 100,000. However, more and more people began to question the official description of the violence as only Islamist fanatics' desperate struggle against state power and its rivals. How was it possible, they asked, that the army never had the opportunity to intervene when groups of Islamists cut the throats of women and children despite the same kind of massacre occurring time and again in a fairly small and well-defined area south of Algiers?

According to Countryaah, there was talk of contradictions within the military-dominated state leadership, where a strong phalanx was considered useful in keeping the conflict alive in order to demonize the extremists and never have to make political concessions to even the moderate Islamists. By allowing the extreme Armed Islamic group, Groupe Islamique Army (GIA), to appear cruel and bestial, the army's own abuses could be justified. The theory was also argued that GIA could even have been infiltrated by the security forces.

Time and time again, massacres were described as the worst of their kind so far. More than 300 were killed during the fasting month of Ramadan, the blackest month during the conflict. At least 93 were murdered in the village of Haouch Boughfi al-Khemesti south of Algiers in April, the bloodiest individual massacre until then but far surpassed by the slaughter in Sidi Moussa south of Algiers at the end of August, when probably well over 200 were killed. 63 civilians were killed in a suburb of Algiers on September 5, the worst massacre so far in the capital. 16 schoolchildren on bus trips were killed outside Algiers in October, the worst attack directed at children. Just a week later, the bloodiest massacre in western Algeria occurred: 43 bus passengers were murdered near Oran.

Two of the imprisoned leaders of the Islamic Rescue Front, Front Islamique du Salut (FIS), Abbas Madani and Abd al-Qader Hashani, were released and advocated an end to the violence. The FIS armed branch of the Islamic Rescue Army (AIS) announced a ceasefire but was condemned for this by the GIA, which quickly escalated its violence. FIS did not establish any dialogue with the government and the party did not participate in parliamentary or municipal elections.

Shortly before the June parliamentary elections, the circle of President Liamine Zeroual formed the National Democratic Assembly (Rassemblement National Democratique, RND), which despite a pale election campaign, won big and formed government with the old state-bearing party FLN and the newly formed, moderate Islamic Social Movement, de la Societé pour la Paix (MSP; formerly Hamas). These three also dominated the municipal elections in October. After both elections, the opposition strongly criticized what it regarded as gross electoral fraud. Foreign observers were also critical.

In the midst of mindless violence, the Algerian economy developed astoundingly well. Inflation was on the way down, the trade balance was positive and growth was around 4% per year. Oil and gas accounted for 90% of export earnings, and in the well-guarded oil districts there were no acts of violence. Europe receives 20% of its natural gas from Algeria, which could partly explain the EU's inability to put pressure on the government.

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