Algeria's 1992 state of emergency to be lifted

AP , Friday 4 Feb 2011

Algeria promised to end a 19-year-old state of emergency and provide more political freedoms as reform protests are spilling over from one country to another

Algeria will lift the state of emergency that has been in effect since 1992 in the "very near future," the country's president was quoted as saying Thursday.

Even so, demonstrations still won't be allowed in the capital of Algiers, President Abdelaziz Bouteflika said, according to state media.

The government has insisted the state of emergency was a necessary tool in the fight against terrorism, but critics charge that recently it has been used to muzzle the political opposition by banning marches.

The state of emergency was declared as Algeria spiraled into a civil war between Islamists and government forces, a yearslong battle that killed up to 200,000 people. Violence has tapered off and attacks by militants are now only sporadic.

The state APS news agency said Bouteflika made the announcement during a Cabinet meeting Thursday, where he charged the government with finding an alternative method to combat extremism.

The news agency quoted Bouteflika as insisting that the state of emergency "didn't at any moment hinder pluralist political activity." Still, he stipulated that the ban on demonstrations in the capital will be maintained even after the nationwide state of emergency is lifted.

"For well-known reasons of public order," demonstrations in the capital will be permitted only inside certain buildings, the report quoted Bouteflika as saying.

An opposition group is planning a protest march in Algiers on Feb. 12, and the government has warned them that the gathering is still banned and they are responsible if violence breaks out.

U.S. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said Washington welcomed Bouteflika's pledge to lift the state of emergency, but underscored that concrete action needed to follow his words.

"We're encouraged by his statement," he told reporters in Washington. "If it is indeed lifted, it will be a positive step forward."

Like several of its North African neighbors, Algeria, a nation of 35 million people, is on edge. Riots broke out last month after a spike in food prices, leaving two people dead, and hospital and bank employees went on strike this week.

Bouteflika's comments come as massive street protests aimed at ousting Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak entered their 10th day. In Algeria's neighbor to the east, Tunisia, a popular uprising ousted longtime autocratic President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali last month after 23 years in power.

The rebellion in Tunisia was sparked when a young man set himself on fire, protesting unemployment and harassment. He died, and his desperate act sparked copycat self-immolations in the Arab world, including 10 in Algeria, where two of them died.

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