Algerians voted almost unanimously to endorse President Abdelaziz Bouteflika's drive to end years of violence, according to referendum results announced today. The peace plan offers a partial amnesty for Islamic rebels who have been fighting the government since the Army intervened to prevent the Islamic movement winning the 1992 General Election.

Interior Minister Abdelmalek Sellal said 85.06 percent of the 17.5 million voters cast their ballots and nearly 99 percent of them answered yes to the question: "Do you agree with the president's approach to restoring peace and civil concord?" The massive support surpassed the 74 percent that Bouteflika won in presidential elections last April on turnout of just over 60 percent in a poll marred by allegations of vote-rigging.

The banned Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) greeted the referendum result with caution, but Bouteflika's supporters said they were not surprised by the near-total support and brushed aside suggestions that the figures might have been inflated.

France gave a wholehearted welcome on Friday to the "Yes" vote in Algeria's peace referendum, unlike the chill which greeted President Abdelaziz Bouteflika's election earlier this year. However, badly-needed business investment from Algeria's former colonial power is unlikely to come pouring into the North African state until there is clear proof that the vote will result in better security, industrial sources said.

Relations between France and Algeria have been severely strained in recent years, with Paris alarmed and frustrated by Algiers' failure to stem the bloodletting, and Algeria furious at supposed interference by Paris in its internal affairs.