Algerian voters approve peace plan

Amnesty offered to rebels for certain crimes

October 01, 2005|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

ALGIERS -- Algerian authorities said yesterday that 82 percent of eligible voters poured into the polls a day earlier, with a 97 percent majority approving a referendum that the president promoted as a way for Algeria to get past the killing and violence of a civil war that has spanned more than a decade.

There was no independent oversight of the voting process or oversight of the counting process, and anecdotal reports from around the capital region suggested that the turnout was far lower than reported.

But the interior minister, Yazid Noureddine Zerhouni, dismissed doubts about the integrity of the vote raised by reporters, human rights groups and opposition political leaders.

"How do you explain these figures you gave when we noticed on the ground there wasn't any large turnout?" asked Faisal Metaoui, a reporter for the independent Algerian newspaper Al Watan, at a morning news conference with the minister.

"If you did your work of journalism properly, you would have noticed and confirmed the figures," the minister said, pointing out that most Algerians vote at night.

The commanding victory and turnout figures have only heightened the criticism of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika's charter for Peace and National Reconciliation. The president and his supporters said the charter was vital to help Algeria turn the page on years of violence.

But it was sharply criticized by victims' families, opposition leaders and human rights groups who complained that it does not hold criminals accountable for their crimes and who charged the referendum was more of a political maneuver to empower the president.

With the results posted yesterday showing that only 2 percent of those who voted cast ballots against the referendum, those charges grew even sharper.

Bouteflika's office wrote the charter without any input from the public or other government agencies, a government official confirmed.

The document offered amnesty to terrorists who participated in crimes except for mass murder, rape and bombings in public places, as long as they agreed to hand in their weapons.

It effectively exonerates public security services for any role in the disappearance of more than 6,000 people who were taken away by state agents.

It offers families of the dead and missing financial compensation.

It also gives the president a free hand to decide how to implement many of these matters.

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