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Argentina: green light for Oct. 30 elections

Argentine President Reynaldo Bignone's promise to hold elections Oct. 30 appears to have relieved political tensions that had approached the breaking point.

His announcement, made Monday in a televised address, included a commitment to have an elected civilian government take power on Jan. 30. It came soon after a narrowly averted coup attempt by young military officers angered by attacks on the armed forces by politicians and the news media.

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Political leaders, who have been pushing for a return to civilian rule since the nation's Falklands war defeat, welcomed the announcement, but said the 90 -day period between the election and transfer of power is too long.

The political parties, alarmed over a deepening economic crisis as well as the military's growing unpopularity, have pressed for a July election in order to avoid a ''social explosion.'' But after a series of talks with President Bignone last week, they apparently were persuaded that the October date would be the best guarantee against interruption of a transition to democracy by hard-line elements within the armed forces.

Also, despite their anti-militarist rhetoric, party officials privately admit that they need a little more time to smooth over splits within their own ranks. For example, the Peronists have over 10 candidates bidding for the presidency.

Bignone, who succeeded Gen. Leopoldo Fortunato Galtieri as president after the end of the Falklands war last June, gains some breathing room by the decision. He has emerged as the symbol of moderation, delicately reconciling the conflicting interests of military and civilian pressure groups. Yet just last month he is reliably understood to have narrowly survived an attempted coup by middle- and junior-ranking officers angered by attacks on the armed forces by politicians and the local media. The armed forces are encountering heavy criticism of their conduct in the Falklands war, of their investigation of the war that has left some alledgedly guilty colonels untouched, and of the military's human rights record. The young officers demanded that the government take urgent steps to dampen the controversy before handing power to civilians.

The country's junta of Army, Navy, and Air Force chiefs held a series of crisis talks with President Bignone in which they brought up the officers' sentiments and a recommendation for an Oct. 30 election.

''You could say it was an offer General Bignone could not refuse,'' noted a local commnentator.

The junta believes that the eight-month period leading up to the elections and the three period before transfer of power is sufficient time for the politicians to moderate their positions on some of the more sensitive political issues.

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The military has given the parties' until the end of July for ''reorganization,'' a process that has been under way since a ban on political activity was lifted in June of last year.

Bignone and the junta have taken a calculated risk, hoping that the reorganization will prove so time-consuming that the politicians will turn in on themselves rather than against the military. This could prove wishful thinking. Most Argentines are in no mood to be patient.

The first major test of civilian-military relations is expected to come before the end of this month. The government is understood to be preparing a statement allegedly whitewashing the responsibility of its officers in the disappearance of thousands of civilians following the 1976 coup.

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