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Local press: Algerian alcohol ban sign of radicalism

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ALGIERS, Algeria (Reuters) -- A surprise vote by Algeria's parliament to ban the import of alcoholic drinks in the moderate Muslim country marks the return of Islamic extremism, several leading newspapers said on Wednesday.

Algeria has prided itself as being one of the most liberal Muslim countries, even as authorities fought a decade-long war against fundamentalists determined to set up a purist Islamic state. More than 150,000 people, mostly civilians, died in the violence, according to human rights groups.

"The return to the FIS (Islamic Salvation Front) years," newspaper Le Soir d'Algerie splashed across its front page in reference to the radical political party, which during its time in local government put in place several radical measures.

The FIS was banned after army-backed authorities scrapped the second round of legislative elections the FIS was poised to win in 1992. This sparked an armed struggle, which has only died down in recent years.

Tuesday's vote was a snub to President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who has boosted Algeria's image abroad after years of isolation. The vote was put forward by the Islamic party El Islah but was also backed by the dominant party, the National Liberation Front.

The influential newspaper El Watan said on its front page there was a "wind of (Islamic) fundamentalism over parliament."

The small but symbolic vote comes less than six months before presidential elections.

Finance Minister Abdelatif Benachenhou said the vote was contrary to the country's international commitments and came at an awkward time as it was in the middle of negotiations to join the World Trade Organisation.

The vote means alcohol beverage imports will be banned from January. Benachenhou said the oil and gas rich North African country -- which exports wine -- risked tit-for-tat reprisals.

Copyright 2003 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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