ALGERIANS are reeling under the shock of the assassination of their head of state, Mohamed Boudiaf, saying the attack marks a new phase in the increasing daily violence rocking the country.
The incident also has increased tensions between the government and the fundamentalist Islamic Salvation Front (FIS), which was outlawed in January and has been accused of the June 29 shooting.
"The fundamentalists deserve no concessions. We are heading for civil war," the Alger Republican newspaper quoted a Boudiaf aide as saying. The FIS has denied involvement.
"It is awful," said Jamil, a student at Algiers University, on hearing the news of the assassination. "I no longer know where the country is going. I am afraid of the future, I am afraid of anarchy."
Reactions from around the world vary. The United States State Department deplored the incident, and Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates sent messages of condolences to the ruling Council of State. But Iran and the Lebanon's Hizbullah (Party of God) said that Boudiaf's death was a consequence of the government's move to crush the democratic process.
Following the attack, police officers and the gendarmerie, Algeria's paramilitary police force, were deployed throughout the Annaba. Police are also surveying the streets in and around Algiers.
The assassination of Boudiaf, who was addressing a gathering at the opening of the cultural center in Annaba, east of the capital, comes at a volatile time in Algeria's history. In recent months the situation in the country has reached new levels of violence, as Islamic militants continued to wage a guerrilla war against the military-backed authorities. More than 100 members of the security forces have been killed since the beginning of the year in these attacks.
The fundamentalists are angry at the cancellation in January of Algeria's first multiparty elections, which the main Muslim party, the FIS, was set to win. The party has since been banned, and its leaders and thousands of supporters have been arrested.
The death of Boudiaf has headed the country back toward the chaos it faced at the beginning of the year, after the resignation of the former president, Chadli Benjedid. The ruling Council of State, set up by the military after Mr. Benjedid left, has been meeting in emergency session to try to find a way out of the crisis.
In a June 29 statement, the Council appealed for calm and reaffirmed its determination to maintain authority. "The Council is prepared to quickly take all the security measures necessary to deal with the current unrest," the statement read.
As a first step, an investigation is under way to find out who is behind the assassination. Eyewitnesses in Annaba say there were at least two gunmen. The assailant who shot Boudiaf was gunned down by the presidential bodyguards, but it appears there was a second attacker, who was arrested and is now being interrogated.
The identity of the killers is the subject of intense speculation, with many suspecting the killing was the work of Islamic militants. The attack seemed to be a carefully planned operation: At least one of the alleged attackers was dressed in police riot gear.
There is a possibility that the attackers could be members of the security forces. Although the authorities say the fundamentalists had failed to infiltrate the Army, senior government officials privately admit that there are Islamic sympathizers within the police.
It is possible that the assassins could have been acting on different orders. Boudiaf made clear his determination to track down government officials, including high-ranking people in the administration, involved in corruption and bring them to trial.
Most Algerians now expect a further crackdown on the Islamic movement, especially as the defense minister, Gen. Khalid Nezzar, who is a member of the ruling Council of State, takes over. There is also a general impression that the country is drifting, with the military competing with civilian members of government for power.
When Boudiaf returned from exile in January to lead the country, he was greeted as the country's savior. A veteran of the war of independence, he was untainted by the 30 years of one-party mismanagement and corruption. Algerians seemed ready to give him a chance to tackle the country's many economic and social ills.
But after five months of Boudiaf's rule, Algerians could only see broken promises. There are few signs of the thousands of jobs he promised to create, or of the new houses he said he would build. Instead Algerians have had to face spiraling prices, with basic food like bread more than doubling in cost.
Boudiaf's attempt to create a National Patriotic Rally to bring together the political forces in the country also failed to muster significant support. To many Algerians it sounded like a return to a one-party system.
"We are going back to the bad old days when there was only a single party," says one man here.
The coming weeks will be crucial in Algeria's history. The military-backed authorities face the nearly impossible task of keeping the lid on fundamentalist unrest, while at the same time trying to legitimize their regime.