ALGIERS – Algeria said Wednesday it will lift by the end of February the state of emergency slapped on the country 19 years ago at the start of a decade-long bloody conflict with Islamist militants.
“The lifting of the state of emergency will take place before the end of the current month along with the announcement of several measures regarding housing, jobs and administration management,” the state news agency APS quoted Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia as saying.
The state of emergency was declared in 1992 amid the violence pitting radical Islamists against the military-backed government which claimed at least 150,000 lives over a decade.
President Abdelaziz Bouteflika had announced earlier this month he would lift the state of emergency “in the very near future,” among a series of new measures long demanded by the opposition. But he did not give a precise date.
Ouyahia’s announcement comes ahead of a second protest march set for Saturday in Algiers by the National Coordination for Change and Democracy (CNCD), a coalition of opposition parties, rights groups and unofficial unions.
Emboldened by popular uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, roughly 2,000 protesters poured into the streets of the capital last weekend in another call by the CNDC, defying a ban on public demonstrations and the state of emergency. Roughly 30,000 riot police were dispatched to stop them.
The United States, Germany and France have all urged Algerian authorities to allow its citizens to demonstrate freely and exercise restraint toward the protesters.
The state “could not be unaware of the events taking place in Arab and Islamic countries,” Ouyahia said in his remarks to Bouteflika supporters.
It was “critical to offer adequate solutions to the problems of Algerian youth,” he said.
The CNCD wants the immediate end of Bouteflika’s regime, citing the same problems of high unemployment, housing and soaring costs that inspired the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt.
The grievances triggered riots in early January that left five dead and more than 800 injured.
A protest called by the opposition Rally for Culture and Democracy (RCD) in Algiers on January 22 also left many injured as police blocked a march on parliament.
Like their counterparts in Tunisia and Egypt, the protesters have used Facebook and text messages to spread their call for change.
Bouteflika, in power since 1999, has acted to curb price rises and promised political concessions.
They include calling on state-owned broadcasting companies to offer coverage of officially authorised political parties and organisations — a key demand of the opposition.
But the opposition says these steps are not enough.
The 74-year-old Bouteflika was reelected in 2004 and again in 2009 after revising the constitution to allow for an indefinite number of terms.