Algerians are overwhelmingly expected to approve a partial amnesty to end an Islamic insurgency which has claimed up to 150,000 lives. Nearly half of the country’s 18 million eligible voters have cast their ballots in president Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s proposed “charter for peace and national reconciliation”.
It is the second time he has urged people to pardon rebels in prison or on the run who abandon their armed struggle for a purist Islamic state. However those involved in massacres, bombings or rapes will not be allowed to escape justice if they hand over their weapons. Opposition parties accuse Bouteflika of using the referendum to strengthen his grip on the country because it bans Islamists from participating in politics.
But with the government throwing all its weight behind the “Yes” campaign such protests have been in the minority. Human rights groups have called on Algerians to boycott the vote saying the amnesty will see abuses committed by the army and islamists go unpunished. Authorities estimate there are up to a thousand rebels remaining, although only a few hundred are armed and still fighting security forces.