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Algeria calls off vote after rioters are shot

A military show of force restored calm to the Algerian capital Wednesday after a wave of violent protests by Moslem fundamentalists prompted President Chadli Benjedid to declare a state of emergency and postpone this North African country's first multiparty parliamentary elections. Benjedid, who has pledged to lead Algeria to democracy, ordered the crackdown early Wednesday after at least seven people died Tuesday in clashes between police and tens of thousands of supporters of the Islamic Salvation Front, which has emerged as the country's strongest political force.

The action signaled a serious setback in Algeria's rapid transformation from a country dominated for nearly three decades by the ruling National Liberation Front to one of the few multiparty democracies in the Arab world. Algeria is the second largest African country after Sudan.

The Islamic Front was officially recognized after political liberalization was begun in 1989. In June 1990 the front overwhelmingly won municipal elections in Algeria's first multiparty vote.

The coming parliamentary elections were to provide a key test for the growing political muscle of Islamic fundamentalists in North Africa. Their strength has blossomed, despite occasional government crackdowns, in Tunisia, Morocco, Egypt and Sudan under the anti-Western sentiment nurtured during the crisis in the Persian Gulf.

Governments throughout North Africa have grown increasingly nervous in recent months over the coming elections in Algeria and have criticized Benjedid's decision to legalize an Islamic party.

While some sporadic clashes took place overnight, the presence of tanks and armored cars Wednesday appears to have discouraged new demonstrations.

In Washington, the State Department expressed regret "that the promising democratic process that has been under way in Algeria for the past two years has been interrupted and that a loss of life has occurred."

Benjedid said he ordered the crackdown "to avoid widespread repression," adding that the elections would be held once "adequate conditions" had been prepared.

_ Information from the New York Times and Reuters was used in this report.