ALGIERS, Algeria — The cycle of deadly violence and atrocities that gripped Algeria for more than a decade is at the heart of a referendum today that asks: Is it time to forgive and move on?
President Abdelaziz Bouteflika says his Charter for Peace and National Reconciliation is aimed at closing the wounds of the battle between Islamic extremists and security forces that left an estimated 120,000 people dead and thousands missing.
Critics say the charter is a way for the president to further consolidate power and that issuing pardons for perpetrators of the violence goes against the very notion of peace.
Bouteflika has crisscrossed this North African nation of 33 million for weeks, addressing rallies to urge a "yes" vote so the nation can come to terms with what authorities refer to as the "national tragedy." He asked surviving victims to accept a "new sacrifice in the interest of the nation."
The insurgency started when the army canceled the January 1992 second round of voting in Algeria's first multiparty legislative elections to thwart a likely victory by the now-banned Islamic Salvation Front.
Daily beheadings and massacres committed by Islamic extremists followed. Tens of thousands of civilians were killed. There were also accusations that government security forces played a role in some of the bloodshed; victims' families blame them for many of the thousands of disappearances.