POSTED: 12:58 p.m. HST, Feb 24, 2011
ALGIERS, Algeria >> Algeria today officially lifted a state of emergency ordered 19 years ago as the country catapulted into a period of chaos.
The measure was entered into the Official Journal, undoing the procedures that put it in place, the official APS news agency reported, citing a statement from the president's office.
The decision to do away with the restrictive measure has long been demanded by opposition parties and civil society. It comes amid a flurry of strikes and protests and was clearly a gesture aimed at restoring a measure of calm. Tumult in the Arab world increased a sense of unease.
However, the lifting of the state of emergency was only a partial victory. Interior Minister Dahou Ould Kabila announced earlier Thursday that protest marches would continue to be banned in the capital.
"The moment does not appear to have arrived to authorize marches in Algiers," he said in an Algerian radio interview.
He said that Algeria remains a target for terrorists.
"Mobilizing police will drain them from other sensitive points in the city of Algiers," he said. "Algiers is targeted by leaders of terrorist groups (because) it gives them media impact."
Marches outside the capital must be authorized three days before an event, the minister said.
The state of emergency was ordered in February 1992 as Algeria embarked on an era of violence that ballooned into a deadly Islamist insurgency. The violence was triggered by an army decision to cancel midway the nation's first multiparty elections to thwart a likely victory by a now-banned Muslim fundamentalist party. The president at the time, Chadli Bendjedid, was removed and replaced by a High Council made up mainly of generals.
The Cabinet decided Tuesday to lift the state of emergency, approved by President Abdelaziz Bouteflika. The two-day delay in enacting the decision was needed to replace the law on the books with a new one. Publication of the change in the Official Journal was the final step to lifting the state of emergency.
The state of emergency banned protest marches, though they were occasionally tolerated in regions outside Algiers. It also increased the powers of local governors and police.
Lifting it is, for many citizens, a psychological comfort as it signals that Algeria is stable and safe after what the country refers to as its "national tragedy," the battle against Islamist insurgents that claimed an estimated 200,000 lives — security forces, Islamists and civilians caught in the middle.
However, some see the move as a mere tactic to placate.
The Algerian League for the Defense of Human Rights called it a "ruse aimed at fooling international opinion at a time when Arab regimes are under pressure."
The league was a leading force in protest marches over the past two Saturdays pressing for a peaceful transition to democracy, but overwhelmed by police. However, the umbrella group it helped lead split into two movements this week over internal rivalries between associations and unions and opposition parties. The parties plan a march in the capital Saturday in defiance of the continued ban.
The Algerian military has been the real power behind the politicians since independence from France in 1962. Bouteflika, elected in 1999, is the first civilian president since the brief tenure of the newly-free nation's first chief of state, Ahmed Ben Bella. But experts maintain that Bouteflika's decision-making power is limited.