* 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 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
"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
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)