January 5, 1998 in Nation/World

Algerian Government Shaken By Killing Spree

Associated Press

Scattered shootings, abductions and a bombing left a new trail of bloodshed in Algeria over the weekend, while the opposition on Sunday demanded a government response to last week’s slaughter of 412 peasants.

Algeria, in the grip of a 6-year-old insurgency by militants intent on overthrowing the military government, has been shaken by a new wave of violence that coincides with the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Almost two dozen people died in the weekend violence.

The government continued to withhold comment on Tuesday’s massacre in western Algeria - the deadliest since the insurgency began - and critics accused the country’s leaders of trying to pretend that Algeria is not in the throes of a dangerous crisis.

“We have to break the silence. There’s tragedy in a country they say is normalized,” said the front page of the opposition and anti-fundamentalist newspaper Le Matin.

A statement Sunday by the Movement for a Peaceful Society, an Islamic group with representation in Parliament, demanded “reinforcement of security measures.”

Despite growing bloodshed, President Liamine Zeroual’s government has insisted in recent months that the violence was “residual terrorism.” State television, which did not report last week’s massacre until Saturday, made no mention of the killings Sunday.

In the attack Tuesday, armed men slit throats, cut off heads and bashed babies against walls in four hamlets around the western town of Relizane as Ramadan began at sundown, according to survivors.

The villagers were not armed and had no telephones to call for help.

No one claimed responsibility for the attack, but suspicion fell on the Armed Islamic Group, the insurgency’s most violent movement. Known by its French initials GIA, the group seeks to establish a new government based on a strict interpretation of Koranic law.

The daily l’Authentique quoted residents as saying some of the militant attackers were former neighbors who wanted to seize their property. Other papers saw the killings as an attempt by the GIA to widen the conflict beyond Algiers, the capital.

The government has set up some local self-defense militias, but the militants often have sought to punish villages that arm themselves.

An estimated 75,000 people have died since January 1992 in an insurgency that erupted after the government canceled parliamentary elections the Islamic Salvation Front was expected to win. Voters supported the Front as an expression of their anger over high unemployment and corruption in the petroleum-rich nation.

© Copyright 1998 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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