Algerian PM: there is no political crisis

Wed Mar 30, 2011 10:43pm BST

* Arab unrest putting pressure on Algeria to reform

* PM says Algeria different from other Arab countries

* Acknowledges anger over unemployment, housing shortages

By Lamine Chikhi

ALGIERS, March 30 (Reuters) - Algeria's prime minister on Wednesday denied the country was in a political crisis sparked by unrest in the Arab world but acknowledged public anger over unemployment and a lack of housing.

Algeria, one of the biggest suppliers of natural gas to the European Union, has seen a wave of strikes and protests over the past few months, though they have yet to coalesce into the kind of uprising that toppled leaders in Egypt and Tunisia.

Pressure has been building from government opponents, and also from inside the ruling establishment, for far-reaching political reform to ease tensions and for new blood to be brought into the government.

But Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia rejected comparisons between Algeria and other Arab countries convulsed by popular revolts.

"There is no political crisis in Algeria," he said on state television. "There is a big difference between Algeria and other Arab countries in terms of democracy."

"The social front is in a state of ferment because of unemployment and a lack of housing," he said. "We still have corruption in Algeria."

But he said the government was working to get to grips with the problems. "Algeria's top priorities are social and economic," Ouyahia said.

Algeria's opposition, backed by some senior figures within the ruling elite, say the country's leadership is drifting in the face of strikes and protests and needs to set out a clear agenda of political reform to reassert control.

There have been widespread reports in the local media that President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, 74, is preparing a government reshuffle, which may involve replacing Ouyahia, but this has not been officially confirmed.

In a concession to his opponents, Bouteflika has lifted a 19-year-old state of emergency, promised unspecified political reforms and offered to open up tightly controlled state media to dissenting voices.

Ouyahia made his remarks in a political discussion programme on state television, in itself a sign of the changes in Algeria, where debate is rarely played out in the state-run media. (Writing by Christian Lowe; Editing by Louise Ireland)

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