x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Algeria says 19-year-old emergency to end within days

As protesters take to streets, with marches, promised every weekend until government is changed, minister tells French radio that state of emergency is set to be 'thing of the past'.

PARIS // The 19-year-old state of emergency in Algeria will end within days, the foreign minister, Mourad Medelci, said yesterday, brushing off concerns that recent protests in the country could escalate the ones did in Tunisia and Egypt.

A state of emergency has been in force in Algeria since 1992. However, the government has come under pressure from opponents, inspired by uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia, to ditch emergency laws.

Several hundred protesters took to the streets in the capital, Algiers, on Saturday and opposition groups said they would demonstrate every weekend until the government is changed.

Mr Medelci told the French radio station Europe 1: "In the coming days, we will talk about [the state of emergency] as if it was a thing of the past.

"That means that in Algeria we will have a return to a state of law that allows complete freedom of expression, within the limits of the law," he said.

Recent protests had been organised by minority groups with limited support, the minister said, adding that there was no risk of a government overthrow as in neighbouring Tunisia.

However, he suggested the government might be willing to make concessions, saying: "The decision to change the government lies with the president, who will assess the possibility, as he has done in the past, to make adjustments."

"Algeria is not Tunisia or Egypt," he added. The resignation on Friday of the Egyptian president, Hosni Mubarak, and last month's overthrow of Tunisia's leader have led many to ask which country could be next in the Arab world.

Widespread unrest in Algeria could have implications for the world economy since it is a major oil and gas exporter, but analysts have said an Egyptian-style revolt was unlikely because the government could use its energy wealth to placate protesters.

Discontent with joblessness, poor housing conditions and high food prices sparked rioting in January across the country, but there is so far no sign that this is coalescing into a political movement.