After Loss At Polls, Militant Calls For Talks In Algeria

Appearing to acknowledge a serious setback after Algeria’s presidential elections, the outlawed Islamic Salvation Front called Monday for negotiations with President Liamine Zeroual to end the country’s civil strife, which has taken tens of thousands of lives.

Zeroual, a former army general who was appointed president by the military government in January 1994, emerged from last week’s election with 61 percent of the vote, which was taken by most analysts to be a strong mandate despite a boycott of the election by major opposition groups.

“Mr. Zeroual is certainly the valid negotiator to lead the talks on the side of the effective power,” Rabih Kebir, the Islamic Salvation Front’s most senior spokesman outside Algeria, said Monday.

Islamic militants began a campaign of violence to bring down the government by force in January 1992 after the government canceled legislative elections that the front was expected to win. The front was subsequently outlawed by the government and its top leaders jailed.

The offer from Kebir, who lives in exile in Germany, constitutes a significant retreat by the Islamic party. Previously, it repeatedly called for the resignation of Zeroual’s government, contending that the only way to end the conflict between secular and religious political forces in Algeria was to form a national unity government.

While Kebir is very influential, it is not certain whether he speaks for all of the militant factions fighting the government.

The front and two secular opposition parties called on Algerians to boycott the elections, only to find that - according to government figures - 75 percent of Algeria’s 16 million eligible voters cast their ballots.

Zeroual defeated three candidates, including two moderate advocates of Islamic rule.

The moderates would accept coexistence with the secular parties.

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