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Algerian president’s Cabinet resigns

Another is formed, and a new minister is added to lineup

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ALGIERS, Algeria — Wrestling to end a civil insurgency that has killed thousands of people, Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika faced a new challenge Saturday when his 8-month-old government resigned.

The president accepted the collective resignation of his Cabinet after meeting with Prime Minister Ahmed Benbitour in the morning. He immediately charged close aide Ali Benflis with forming a new government, and later Saturday, Benflis unveiled the new Cabinet.

The new lineup remains largely unchanged from the previous administration — with one significant exception. Abdelaziz Belkhadem, an ex-president of the National Assembly who has long symbolized the conservative elements of the formerly ruling National Liberation Front Party, will succeed Foreign Affairs Minister Youcef Yousfi.

The reasons for the old Cabinet's resignation were not immediately clear.

Benbitour, who has been prime minister since December 1999, had formed his government by tapping into five different political parties. It was apparently an effort to unify the government behind Bouteflika's efforts to end the bloody struggle here by Islamic militants.

Algeria has been torn apart by violence since the army canceled 1992 legislative elections that a Muslim fundamentalist party, the Islamic Salvation Front, was strongly favored to win. Approximately 1,300 people have died in the past seven months, and more than 100,000 have been killed since 1992.

Bouteflika has sought to restore peace by offering a partial amnesty to militants not guilty of serious crimes. Violence continues, however, with almost daily reports of deaths of civilians, soldiers and militants.

The coalition government not only failed to stem the violence but also fell short of achieving the cohesion necessary to enact education, judicial and bureaucratic reforms that Bouteflika has been touting since his April 1999 election.

The most irritable coalition partner appeared to be the Movement for a Peaceful Society, or MPS, a moderate Islamic party that had repeatedly criticized Bouteflika's politics in public.

Earlier this month, Bouteflika fired 13 local officials as part of a larger shake-up of the Algerian administration.

A statement from the presidency had said the decision to fire the officials and promote several others aimed to "breathe new life into the administration."

Most of those fired had faced harsh criticism in the media during the past few weeks for poor management of land and housing. Many were implicated by the press in various scandals.