Algeria promised to end a 19-year-old state of emergency and provide more political freedoms on Thursday, concessions designed to keep out a wave of uprisings sweeping the Arab world.
The announcement by the energy exporting nation followed pressure from government opponents, some inspired by unrest in Egypt and Tunisia, who demanded the emergency powers be scrapped and are planning a protest in the capital on Feb. 12.
The lifting of the state of emergency will happen "in the very near future," official media quoted President Abdelaziz Bouteflika as telling a meeting of senior ministers.
"This is clearly a response to the events in Tunisia and Egypt and an attempt by the Algerian authorities to get ahead of the curve and head off popular protests," said Benjamin Stora, a leading French historian on Algeria.
"They would not have dreamed of lifting the state of emergency otherwise."
"Limit to new political freedoms"
Bouteflika said the government should adopt new measures to promote job creation, a nod to the problem of unemployment which is particularly acute among young Algerians and helped trigger the uprising that ousted the president in neighbouring Tunisia.
The Algerian president also instructed that national television and radio stations -- which are controlled by the state and broadcast almost no voices of dissent -- give airtime to all political parties.
"It is a step in the right direction," Algerian political analyst Mohamed Lagab said of the proposed changes. "(It) shows that Bouteflika has understood how fragile the situation is."
However, Bouteflika make clear there would be a limit to the new political freedoms. Restrictions on marches in the capital will stay in force even after the lifting of the state of emergency, he said.
Ban on Islamist parties?
Bouteflika, who is 73 and serving his third term as president, issued a warning to opposition groups.
"Freedom should not end in a situation where you have things sliding out of control or anarchy, which have already cost Algeria dear," he said.
The state of emergency was introduced in 1992, soon after the authorities annulled a parliamentary election which a Islamist party won.
That led to nearly two decades of armed conflict between Islamist insurgents and security forces which killed an estimated 200,000 people.
There was no indication that the end of the state of emergency would mean that Islamist parties banned two decades ago would now be able to resume their activities.
"Protests to go ahead"
Leaders of the planned Feb. 12 protest march were meeting late on Thursday to decide if it would still go ahead.
"Personally, I hope very much that this is not just another ruse by the authorities ... I think that instead of getting to the root of the problem the authorities are just playing for time," said one of the organisers, Fodil Boumala.
Early in January, several Algerian cities were shaken by rioting over food prices which killed two people and injured hundreds. Since then cut prices on staple foodstuffs and made massive wheat purchases to avoid any shortages.
Last Mod: 04 Şubat 2011, 09:36