Algeria declares emergency Decree is aimed at Muslim unrest

February 10, 1992|By Kim Murphy | Kim Murphy,Los Angeles Times

CAIRO, Egypt -- After a weekend of worsening violence that has left up to 40 people dead, Algeria's military-backed government declared a 12-month state of emergency yesterday and moved to ban the Islamic fundamentalist political party.

The move appeared designed to head off large-scale public demonstrations threatened by the 3-year-old Islamic Salvation Front, which has demanded the release of its leaders from prison and resumption of the electoral process under which it was poised to gain control of the National Assembly last month.

Security forces seized the headquarters of the Islamic Front in downtown Algiers earlier in the day and arrested at least three top fundamentalist leaders not already in detention, including Abdelkadar Moghni, the popular imam of the Al Sunna Mosque in the crowded Algiers district of Bab al Oued.

The five-member High Committee of State, which took power in January after the army forced the resignation of President Chadli Bendjedid, said that it had filed a complaint to ban the Islamic Front because of "subversive actions . . . that seriously threaten public order and the state's institutions."

Earlier in the day, fundamentalist protesters set up barricades of tires, cement and stone near the main mosque in the city of

Batna, south of Algiers, prompting police to respond with tear gas and rifles.

In Kouba, a fundamentalist stronghold in the Algerian capital, protesters set up roadblocks and prevented police cars and luxury vehicles from entering, setting fire to several automobiles.

The badly fractured Front, whose top leaders have been in prison since June, predicted in its last communique before the government announcement that confrontation would not end.

"The crisis will continue as long as the junta in power perseveres in its policy of arrogance and repression against its political adversaries," the Islamic Front said.

The fundamentalists called for soldiers to disobey orders to shoot protesters and again announced a public march next week to protest the detention of Islamic leaders.

A previously unknown group calling itself the Faithful to the Promisedeclared a jihad, or holy war, "in continuation of that of November 1954," referring to Algeria's war of independence from France. It concluded with two verses from the Koran justifying battle against those who commit injustices.

The latest moves followed a weekend of the worst violence since Jan. 11, when army leaders forced the president to resign and canceled the second round of national elections that almost certainly would have guaranteed the fundamentalists control of the government and freedom to declare an Islamic state in Algeria.

Hundreds of protesters took to the streets in the eastern city of Constantine on yesterday, chanting that they were ready to die for the Islamic Salvation Front, following the burial of a young man killed during a confrontation last week with security forces.

As many as 40 people have been killed and 300 injured in clashes between Islamic protesters and the authorities throughout the country since Friday, according to medical reports from the Algerian capital.

Algerian radio has reported a total of 30 dead and 200 wounded.

The state of emergency declared at 8 p.m. yesterday allows the Interior Ministry to close mosques, search houses and offices, try those threatening security before military tribunals and detain workers taking part in unauthorized strikes.

It also gives the government the power to dissolve the country's municipal councils, about half of which which have been under the control of the fundamentalists since local elections in June 1990.

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