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(AFRICA into the 1990s – continued)

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AFRICA into the 1990s (6 of 8)

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Algeria and Civil War in the 1990s

Algeria won independence from France in 1962. Socialist schemes by the President of Algeria, Ahmed ben Bella, did not work well and created discontent. In 1965, Algeria's leading military man, Houari Boumedienne, took power and Ben Bella returned to the imprisonment he had suffered under the French.

In 1989, the military rulers abandoned socialist economics, and they allowed various political parties to operate. In local elections in 1990, a party called the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) won 55 percent of the vote. Those in power saw this as a threat. The government spoke of the FIS putting an end to democracy, and in June 1991 they outlawed political campaigning in mosques and established other restrictions for an upcoming election for seats in parliament. The Islamic Salvation Front called a general strike. The government declared a state of siege, postponed the elections and imprisoned Islamic Salvation Front leaders.

Moslem intellectuals favoring democracy noticed that the world's most powerful democracy – the United States – said and did nothing in opposition to the crushing of democracy in Algeria. They complained of a pattern of US support for authoritarian regimes among the Arab speaking states.

In Algeria, several armed groups came into existence. Two of them formed the main opposition to the government: the Islamic Armed Movement (MIA), based in the mountains, and the Armed Islamic Group (GIA), based in the towns. Violence erupted in February, 1992. First, guerrillas targeted the army and police. Then some groups started attacking civilians. The government declared a state of emergency.

In 1997, elections were held for seats to the lower house of Algeria's parliament. And that year anti-government forces killed more civilians. The violence since 1992 had climbed to roughly 60,000 Algerians. The GIA suffered divisions as various members objected to its new massacre policy.

Secret negotiations between the government and the political group, the Islamic Salvation Front, produced an agreement between the two in 1999. A new president, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, was elected – the eighth president since the overthrow of Ben Bella. A law was passed giving amnesty to most guerrillas. Many guerrillas "repented," as it was said, and returned to a normal life. 

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