Bouteflika, who won Algeria's last elections in 1999 amid widespread accusations of a rigged vote, pledged the poll would be "transparent".

The president made the announcement on Saturday in a decree signed in line with electoral law, calling for 60 days' notice of the vote.

He also announced the establishment of a poll-monitoring committee to "ensure the transparency of the election".

And he instructed administrators in Algeria to uphold their "neutrality" and called on "all actors", including candidates, to "put their efforts into it loyally".

International observers

Bouteflika's comments came after he asked the United Nations, the Arab League, the African Union, the European Parliament and the European Union to send observers to the election.

"The man elected in April will have the backing of the army and his mission will be to push the country deeper into violence... The current regime no longer has any reason to stay in power. It is near its end because... it has no legitimacy and bases its authority on might"

Abassi Madani,
FIS leader

However, members of a "group of 11" have formed a "front against fraud", and accused Bouteflika of taking advantage of public television and other state resources to prepare a re-election attempt.

This group includes Ali Benflis, who is secretary general of Algeria's former sole political party, the National Liberation Front (FLN).

During a recent meeting, the "group of 11" stated that their "legitimate concern to see a fair and open election has gone without an answer".

Moreover, exiled opposition leader Abassi Madani said the elections would fuel a flare-up of violence in Algeria.

Violence

The Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) leader said he opposed holding elections under emergency rule, adding that those who run for office "will regret it".

He also renewed his call on Saturday for a second republic to be set up to replace "a dying regime".

He said: "The man elected in April will have the backing of the army and his mission will be to push the country deeper into violence."

Speaking from Makka where he is on the annual Hajj pilgrimage, Madani said: "The current regime no longer has any reason to stay in power. It is near its end because... it has no legitimacy and bases its authority on might."

He added: "This regime is responsible for more than 95% of the acts of violence," which have left more than 100,000 people dead since 1992 according to official figures.

Civil war

Madani was already in jail in January 1992 when the Algerian army intervened to halt the second round of a general election the FIS was poised to win.

Benflis is expected to challenge
Bouteflika in presidential polls

The cancelling of the election and outlawing of the FIS triggered Algeria's civil war which has claimed more than 100,000 lives.

The FIS leader was finally freed in July 2003. Last September he was given permission to travel abroad for medical treatment and now lives in exile in Qatar.

Meanwhile, Bouteflika has not yet announced whether he will be standing in this year's poll, but there is little doubt that he will.

Election candidates

In the past few months, Bouteflika's inaugurations of economic and social projects have received blanket coverage and comment on the single state television channel.

Neverthless, forty potential rivals, including several heavyweights, have already taken out the necessary paperwork to register as candidates in the April election.

Among them is former prime minister Benflis, who was sacked by Bouteflika last year after the two fell out.

Other candidates include two other former heads of government, Sid Ahmad Ghazali and Mukdad Sifi, retired general Rashid Benyelles, and Islamist Abd Allah Djab Allah.