Algeria Shifts Toward Iraq

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WITH the streets of its cities erupting in anti-Western rancor, the Algerian government has shifted - at least publicly - all weight in the scales to a pro-Iraqi stance. The shift is designed primarily to gain favor with a public increasingly supportive of Islamic fundamentalists, who since the war began have wholeheartedly embraced Iraq.

Before the bombing raids against Baghdad, a ``neutral'' Algerian government held to a nuanced approach to the Gulf crisis that included as much diplomatic dialogue with the West and condemnation of Iraq's invasion of Kuwait as understanding for Iraq's stance. Since tens of thousands of protesters began shouting anti-Western epithets last week, however, that has changed.

``Our concerns grew considerably when we saw the extent of [military] means used ... which indicate that the coalition is chasing a different goal from what it announced, which was the liberation of Kuwait,'' said Algerian Foreign Minister Sid Ahmed Ghozali, to an Algerian newspaper. ``We are closer than ever to the Iraqi people, our brothers,'' the Foreign Ministry stated.

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The Algerian government, already discredited with a population bitter over a worsening economy, wants to salvage any goodwill it can - especially with general elections, repeatedly put off, now expected by the end of June. But the fact that protest marches called by the government party have consistently attracted small crowds compared with those of the fundamentalist Islamic Salvation Front, is one more bad sign for the government.

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