Protest to go ahead despite ban by Algerian authorities


ALGERIA:ALGERIA’S OPPOSITION has said it will go ahead with a planned protest on Saturday despite a ban by authorities.

Hoping to build on the momentum generated by the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, the march’s organisers – including trade unions, youth groups and opposition politicians – said they would demand the immediate end of president Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s regime.

The Rally for Culture and Democracy (RCD), an umbrella group of the regime’s critics, said it would defy a ban by the authorities in Algiers and go ahead with the march. Protests in the Algerian capital have been banned since June 2001 after protests by Berber activists in the Kabylie region left eight dead and hundreds injured.

The government promised last week that Algeria’s 19-year-old state of emergency would be lifted “in the very near future” and called on state-owned broadcasters to provide fair coverage of authorised political parties – two key demands of the opposition. But the RCD dismissed the president’s pledge to lift martial law as a political manoeuvre.

Unsettled by events elsewhere in north Africa, the Algerian government has lowered the price of cooking oil and sugar and said it would subsidise other staples such as wheat and milk.

The lifting of the state of emergency has been a rallying point for protesters who staged demonstrations across the country last month. The measure was imposed after the cancellation of Algeria’s first multi-party elections that Islamists were set to win in 1992.

Riots over the rising cost of living resulted in five deaths and left more than 800 injured in early January, while three Algerians have died after setting themselves on fire in recent weeks – mimicking the act of the 26-year-old Mohamed Bouazizi, whose self-immolation is seen as the spark that set off the Tunisian revolution.

Thanks to Algeria’s considerable oil wealth and record foreign exchange reserves of up to $150 billion, Mr Bouteflika, the country’s president since 1999, has ample funds at his disposal to subsidise food staples.

However, the government’s failure to relieve problems in housing and unemployment for the population of 35 million have undermined the regime’s credibility.

A diplomatic cable sent from the US embassy in Algiers in December 2007, published by WikiLeaks, described a regime that was “fragile in ways it was not before, plagued by a lack of vision, unprecedented levels of corruption and rumblings of division within the military rank and file.”

In February 2008, another US dispatch pointed to “long-standing political alienation and social discontent”. Housing was “woefully short” while unemployment was “endemic”.