Top former Algerian leader calls for political change

AFP , Thursday 17 Feb 2011

Former secretary general of the ruling party in Algeria calls for peaceful change, accusing the regime of being incapable of solving the thorny problems of the country

Algerian protesters holding their national flag chantslogans including "No to the police state" and "Bouteflika out (Photo: AP)

A senior former leader of the Algerian regime, Abdelhamid Mehri, on Thursday called for sweeping political changes in the North African country in an open letter to President Abdelaziz Bouteflika.

"I address myself to you in this letter in a particularly delicate and dangerous context," the former secretary general of the National Liberation Front, in power since independence in 1962, said.

His letter published by the press accused the regime of being "incapable of solving the thorny problems of our country, which are multiple and complex, and even less so of preparing efficiently for the challenges of the future, which are even more arduous and serious."

"The central question, which calls for a global and organized national effort, is that of setting up a regime that is truly democratic," said Mehri, 85, who is also a former minister and ambassador to France.

Mehri demanded the liberation of "large social categories trapped in the circle of exclusion and marginalization."

Also on Thursday, a powerful opposition coalition announced that it would be going ahead with a protest march planned to take place Saturday in Algiers, in spite of concessions by the prime minister, who on Wednesday reiterated the government's readiness to lift a state of emergency within weeks.

"Algeria is really on the road towards change. Our struggle goes well beyond the lifting of the state of emergency," said Fodil Boumala, a founder member of the National Coordination for Change and Democracy (CNCD), which groups the political opposition, the Algerian human rights league and trade unions.

"The next demonstration on Saturday is being prepared very well. There is less fear," added Boumala. A previous demonstration in the capital on February 12 had gathered some 2,000 people in defiance of a ban.

Boumala said that at the same time as announcing the imminent lifting of the state of emergency, which has been in force since 1992, Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia's government was "preparing an anti-terrorist law which will perhaps be more dangerous."

The state of emergency was initially declared to combat a hardliner Islamists insurgency which claimed more than 150,000 lives in a decade.

Boumala rejected Ouyahia's proposals, which included measures to provide better housing and combat employment, as "pseudo solutions to structural crises. It is a regime cut off from society."

In his letter to Bouteflika, Mehri expressed support for popular initiatives coming out of society and backing the demand for peaceful change," and he also sought to "build bridges for dialogue and the widest consultation," to take politics to the people.

Mehri compared the situation in Algeria with that of other Arab nations which have been swept by waves of popular discontent. "What is in common between Algeria and these countries (such as Tunisia and Egypt) is the very nature of the regimes."

These regimes "all show off a flashy democratic front but in practice, stop, by multiple means, very large categories of citizens from taking part effectively in the management of business."

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