The 19-year-old state of emergency in Algeria will end within days, Algerian Foreign Minister Mourad Medelci said yesterday, brushing off concerns that recent protests in the country could escalate.
A state of emergency has been in force in Algeria since 1992 and the government has come under pressure from opponents, inspired by uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia, to ditch emergency laws.
“In the coming days, we will talk about [the state of emergency] as if it was a thing of the past,” Medelci told the French radio station Europe 1 in an interview. “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.”
Recent protests had been organized by minority groups with limited support, the minister said, adding that there was no risk of the government being overthrown as in Tunisia.
However, he suggested the government may 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, as he has done in the past.”
“Algeria is not Tunisia or Egypt,” he said.
However, the National Coordination for Change and Democracy (CNCD), a coalition of opposition parties, rights groups and unofficial unions, on Sunday announced a new march scheduled for Friday in the capital, despite a longstanding ban on demonstrations.
It will start from May 1 Square, where a demonstration took place on Saturday, said lawyer Moustepha Bouchachi, president of the Algerian League for the Defense of Human Rights, which is part of the CNCD.
On Saturday, nearly 30,000 police prevented about 2,000 protesters marching the 4km from May 1 Square to Martyrs Square.
The security forces made 14 arrests — 300 according to the opposition.
That did not stop another demonstration in Annaba on Sunday, where four police officers were slightly injured during clashes with young protesters outside the local government headquarters.
On Sunday, CNDC spokesman Khalil Moumene condemned what he said was the brutality of the security forces and the arrest of opposition activists the previous day.
“People braved the ban to come and demonstrate peacefully,” and those arrested had been held several hours before being released, he said.
The US and Germany both appealed to the Algerian authorities on Sunday not to over-react.
Public demonstrations have been banned in Algeria under a state of emergency put in place in 1992, but are allowed on a case-by-case basis outside the capital.
The CNCD wants the immediate end of Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s regime, citing high unemployment and soaring costs.
The grievances triggered riots in early January that left five dead and more than 800 injured. A protest in Algiers on Jan. 22 left many injured as police blocked a march on parliament.