Middle East
Algeria repeals emergency law
Scrapping the draconian law to placate growing discontent had been a major demand made by the opposition parties.
Last Modified: 23 Feb 2011 08:02 GMT
The 19-year state of emergency has constrained civil liberties and human rights in the North African oil exporter [AFP]

Algeria's cabinet has adopted an order to lift a 19-year-old state of emergency in a concession designed to avoid the tide of uprisings sweeping the Arab world, but protesters said the measure did not go far enough.

A draft law approved by the cabinet would repeal the emergency law as soon as it is published in the government's official journal, the official Algerie Presse Service reported on Wednesday.

Ending the emergency powers was one of the demands voiced by opposition groups which have been staging weekly protests in the Algerian capital that sought to emulate uprisings in Egypt and neighbouring Tunisia.

"The lifting of the state of emergency is still positive but it's not enough," Mustafa Bouchachi, chairman of the Algerian Human Rights League and one of the organisers of the protests, said on Tuesday.

"We need a real opening up for political, media and social activities so that the people can experience democracy for
themselves," he told the Reuters news agency.

The emergency measures, long lambasted by international human rights groups, have barred peaceful protests, limited constitutionally granted political freedoms and allowed for what many described as arbitrary detentions.

Measures 'for change'

President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who is 73, is likely to remain under pressure - both from protesters and from inside
the ruling establishment - to deliver more change and to explain to the public what he plans to do.

Algeria is a major energy exporter which pumps gas via pipelines under the Mediterranean to Spain and France.

The measures included:

  Giving 100 billion Algerian dinars ($1.38bn) to
public banks which they are to use to finance long-term
investments in business
  Reducing social security contributions for businesses to encourage them to hire more people
  Promoting the farming sector, one of the country's biggest employers, by offering low-interest loans to farmers and making
it easier for domestic companies to lease farmland

The state of emergency was imposed at the beginning of the country's decade-long civil war, which pitted the Armed Islamic Group (GIA) against a military-dominated government that refused to abide by the results of a 1991 election, widely believed to have been won by the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS).

Tens of thousands of people have died in the ensuing conflict.

However, in the past few years the violence has subsided and government critics have alleged the emergency rules are being used to repress political freedoms.

The emergency powers will not be lifted until the order adopted by the cabinet is published in the official gazette, which is likely to happen by the end of February.

"The state of emergency was implemented for the sole needs of the anti-terrorist fight," Algeria's official APS news agency quoted Bouteflika as saying at the cabinet meeting.

Bouteflika had announced earlier this month that the emergency rules would be lifted soon.

Tuesday's decision will have few practical implications: new rules were also adopted which will allow the military to continue involving itself in domestic security, as it had done under the emergency powers.

The emergency rules banned protest marches in the capital, but Bouteflika said earlier this month this restriction would remain in force indefinitely.

The other measures adopted by the government on Tuesday focused on tackling unemployment, which official figures put at about 10 per cent but is much higher among the young.

The government also approved a package of measures aimed at reducing unemployment, which is one of the biggest grievances of ordinary people in Algeria.

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