* President announces state of emergency to be lifted
* Decision follows pressure from opposition groups
* Govt opponents plan protest inspired by Egypt, Tunisia
* President also orders more jobs, greater media freedom
(Updates with opposition reaction in paragraphs 16-17)
By Christian Lowe and Lamine Chikhi
ALGIERS, Feb 3 Algeria promised to end a
19-year-old state of emergency and provide more political
freedoms on Thursday, concessions designed to keep out a wave of
uprisings sweeping the Arab world.
The announcement by the energy exporting nation followed
pressure from government opponents, some inspired by unrest in
Egypt and Tunisia, who demanded the emergency powers be scrapped
and are planning a protest in the capital on Feb. 12.
Algeria's government had argued it needed the extra powers
under the state of emergency to fight Islamist militants linked
to al Qaeda but the insurgency has abated, sparking public
debate about whether those powers are still justified.
The lifting of the state of emergency will happen "in the
very near future," official media quoted President Abdelaziz
Bouteflika as telling a meeting of senior ministers.
"This is clearly a response to the events in Tunisia and
Egypt and an attempt by the Algerian authorities to get ahead of
the curve and head off popular protests," said Benjamin Stora, a
leading French historian on Algeria.
"They would not have dreamed of lifting the state of
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Bouteflika said the government should adopt new measures to
promote job creation, a nod to the problem of unemployment which
is particularly acute among young Algerians and helped trigger
the uprising that ousted the president in neighbouring Tunisia.
The Algerian president also instructed that national
television and radio stations -- which are controlled by the
state and broadcast almost no voices of dissent -- give airtime
to all political parties.
"It is a step in the right direction," Algerian political
analyst Mohamed Lagab said of the proposed changes. "(It) shows
that Bouteflika has understood how fragile the situation is."
However, Bouteflika make clear there would be a limit to the
new political freedoms. Restrictions on marches in the capital
will stay in force even after the lifting of the state of
emergency, he said.
Bouteflika, who is 73 and serving his third term as
president, issued a warning to opposition groups.
"Freedom should not end in a situation where you have things
sliding out of control or anarchy, which have already cost
Algeria dear," he said.
The state of emergency was introduced in 1992, soon after
the authorities annulled a parliamentary election which a
radical Islamist party was poised to win.
That led to nearly two decades of armed conflict between
Islamist insurgents and security forces which killed an
estimated 200,000 people and from which the country, a major oil
and gas producer, is still emerging.
There was no indication that the end of the state of
emergency would mean that Islamist parties banned two decades
ago would now be able to resume their activities.
Leaders of the planned Feb. 12 protest march were meeting
late on Thursday to decide if it would still go ahead.
"Personally, I hope very much that this is not just another
ruse by the authorities ... I think that instead of getting to
the root of the problem the authorities are just playing for
time," said one of the organisers, Fodil Boumala.
Some analysts say that Algeria is different from Egypt and
Tunisia because its huge revenues from energy exports allow it
to satisfy many of its citizens' economic grievances, especially
at a time when oil prices are around $100 a barrel.
Early in January, several Algerian cities were shaken by
rioting over food prices which killed two people and injured
hundreds. Since then cut prices on staple foodstuffs and made
massive wheat purchases to avoid any shortages.
(Additional reporting by Paul Taylor in Paris and William
Maclean in London; Writing by Christian Lowe; Editing by Maria