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Army Cancels Elections in Algeria

Interim government looks for means to dissolve the popular Islamic Fundamentalist Party

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THE Algerian government, reduced to key military and ministerial officials after the Jan. 11 resignation of President Chadli Benjedid and the dissolution of parliament, is developing a national stabilization plan that does not foresee presidential and legislative elections for a year or more.

Convinced that the country risks grave instability and even deeper economic decline without a period free of political turmoil, the Army-backed High Security Council, in power since President Benjedid's surprise resignation, is expected soon to unveil a plan for a "collegial" presidency to implement a sweeping economic redressment program. Some government sources say declaration of a state of emergency is "imminent."

The government is also contemplating a complete dissolution of the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS), the principal Islamic fundamentalist political party, as unconstitutional. Turmoil erupted in Algeria after the staggering victory of the FIS in the first round of legislative elections Dec. 26.

Benjedid had reportedly negotiated an agreement with FIS leaders that called for power-sharing between the FIS and the National Liberation Front, the party in power since independence in 1962. But the Army, dominated by anti-FIS officers and increasingly critical of the president's management of Algeria's democratization process, demanded Benjedid's resignation. The second runoff round of national elections set for Jan. 16 was then canceled.

The government is now in the hands of Prime Minister Sid Ahmed Ghozali, a respected and little-politicized former economics minister. The new prime minister appears to want above all to pull Algeria out of the economic quagmire he and other "reformists" say is at the root of FIS support.

Much of Algeria has held its breath anticipating FIS reaction to the cancellation of elections that were expected to give the party a strong parliamentary majority. The party's executive committee issued a statement Jan. 13 condemning the cancellation and calling on Algerians to "prepare to protect your choice."

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