afrol News, 3 February - Algeria's President Abdelaziz Bouteflika has ordered government to prepare for the lifting of the 19-year-old state of emergency in the country, following recent announcements of large anti-government protests.
The protests, announced from several civil society groups for Saturday 12 February, mainly were to address the state of emergency, which gives authorities ample powers to restrict political and human rights.
Earlier this month, the first signs of unrest were noted in Algeria, reflecting the protests in neighbouring Tunisia. Authorities were quick to lower customs and taxes on basic food items, which recently had become much more expensive.
President Bouteflika, having observed the potentials of the current unrests in North Africa, apparently is taking the threat seriously. In his announcement today, he recalled that the state of emergency was still in effect "for the sole purpose of combating terrorism."
Nevertheless, given the new "controversy on this issue," he had yesterday "instructed government" to seek a new powerful legal basis "that will allow the state to continue fighting terrorism," while lifting the state of emergency. This was to occur "in the very near future," he stated.
President Bouteflika further announced that he would allow demonstrations to be held all over the country, "except in Algiers," the capital. The 12 February marches are planned for in Algiers and acting Prime Minister Nouredine Yazid Zerhouni yesterday had made it clear that such protests would be treated heavy-handedly, emphasising they were illegal.
Further, the Algerian President announced more balanced reporting in state media, saying all political parties would be allowed to present their views "as long as they respect the law and do not let freedom degenerate into chaos."
Finally, President Bouteflika repeated his government's great efforts to create employment and provide social services. Government today was ordered to find new ways of creating more jobs for the youth and widen the access to credit for those wanting to start a small company. According to the IMF, unemployment rates have dropped strongly over the last years, but youth unemployment still stands at over 20 percent.
It remains to be seen whether the groups preparing protests in Algeria will be pleased by the President's concessions. Algerians, tired of years of civil war and insecurity, may however take a more conservative attitude towards popular unrest than other North Africans.
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