Algeria set for new president

Algeria looks set to get a new head of state after the country's leading political party voted to drop the current president and appoint his main rival to lead it into next year's presidential elections.

    Ali Benflis was the former prime minister

    Ali Benflis, who leads the ruling National Liberation Front, won the

    overwhelming backing of his party gaining the votes of 1375 of the 1500

    members in an extraordinary meeting that supporters of the current

    president Abdelaziz Bouteflika had sought to block.

    The meeting had initially been scheduled for Saturday but was moved

    forward after opponents obtained a court ruling asking the interior ministry

    to ban the congress.

    With elections scheduled for April 2004 Benflis is locked in a bitter power

    struggle with Bouteflika.

    FLN U-turn

    Supporters of the latter have been seeking for several months to clip

    Benflis's wings after an FLN Congress in March gave him broad powers as party

    leader in place of the current president.

    The support for Benflis represents a U-turn for the FLN which backed

    Bouteflika in the 1999 presidential race and romped to a stunning majority

    in elections for the state legislature last March.

    Bouteflika sacked Benflis as prime minister in May this year, and earlier

    this week dismissed the last five ministers loyal to him from the governing

    coalition.

    The serving president has yet to announce whether he will stand

    for reelection.

    Independence war

    Bouteflika has been president
    since 1999

    The FLN has ruled the north African country single-handedly since the

    country defeated then colonial power France in a bloody independence war

    that cost one and a half million Algerian lives.

    The country was thrown into another orgy of bloodletting after the army

    cancelled general elections in 1991 that rival Islamists were poised to win.

    More than 100,000 have died in the continuing civil war, although the major

    Islamist factions have now laid down their arms.

    Fifty-eight-year-old Benflis is said to represent the FLN"s moderate,

    progressive wing. He is an ex-human rights lawyer and a founder of the

    Algerian human rights league.

    Islamists

    In his bid for the FLN leadership he stood on a platform of peace,

    denouncing the party's old-guard and calling for the inclusion of more

    female and younger members.

    He has also said he wants to provide a balance between the those in the

    party who want to include Islamists and the extremists known as "the

    eradicators" who want to destroy them.

    Barring any more twists in the leadership tussle Benflis' will enter the

    elections as the front-runner challenged perhaps only by a president much

    weakened by the desertion of his party and, if he decides to run, the

    charismatic former deputy-leader of the Islamic Salvation Front, Ali

    Belhadj.

    SOURCE: Aljazeera + Agencies


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