Algeria to end 19-year state of emergency

ALGIERS Tue Feb 22, 2011 7:33pm GMT

An anti-government protester holding flowers shouts slogans in front of riot policemen during a demonstration in Algier February 19, 2011. REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra

An anti-government protester holding flowers shouts slogans in front of riot policemen during a demonstration in Algier February 19, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Zohra Bensemra

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ALGIERS (Reuters) - Algeria's cabinet on Tuesday adopted an order to lift a 19-year-old state of emergency in a concession designed to dodge the tide of uprisings sweeping the Arab world, but protesters said it was not enough.

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

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," said Mustafa Bouchachi, chairman of the Algerian Human Rights League and one of the organisers of the protests.

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

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 state of emergency was imposed to help the authorities combat Islamist rebels, but 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 in the next few days.

"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 at the start of 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 focussed on tackling unemployment, which official figures put at about 10 percent but is much higher among the young. The measures included:

* Giving 100 billion Algerian dinars ($1.38 billion) 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.

(Reporting by Lamine Chikhi; Writing by Christian Lowe; Editing by Mark Trevelyan)

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