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Algeria government lifts 19-year state of emergency

The Algerian Council of Ministers on Tuesday approved a draft ordinance repealing the country's 19-year state of emergency, delivering on a promise made the week before [JURIST report]. The draft ordinance will have the force of law upon publication in the Official Journal of Algeria [official website], which the Council of Ministers said would be "imminent." The state of emergency, which has been in place since a series of decrees [92-44, 92-75, 92-320, PDF; in French] in 1992, gave the government power to limit political freedoms and even peaceful protests. Opponents also claimed that the state of emergency gave rise to arbitrary detentions. President Abdelaziz Bouteflika announced earlier in the month [AFP report] that the order would be lifted and maintained that protests have not been discouraged: "[n]o law or order has ever forbidden any legal formation or association." However, he declared the state capital of Algiers would remain off-limits to protests. Anti-government protests began in January, in defiance of the state of emergency's stipulations, with the most recent protests on Saturday in Algiers [Al Jazeera report]. The protests in the city capital were met by riot police, although no violence was reported.

Algeria has been under a state of emergency since 1992 when the military canceled elections [WP report] fearing a win by religious fundamentalists. The state of emergency was declared [DOS backgrounder] after it became apparent that the militant Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) would win control of the government. Bouteflika came to power, winning the presidency in 1999 with 70 percent of the official vote and appearing to have the backing of the military. He and the Council of Ministers' willingness to appease protesters appears connected to the protests that have swept across the Middle East and North Africa since protesters in Tunisia ousted President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali [JURIST report] last month. Saif al-Islam, son of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi [BBC profile], announced in a televised address [JURIST report] following several days of protests that the Libyan government is considering adopting a constitution and allowing greater freedoms. Earlier this month, President Hosni Mubarak [Al Jazeera profile] announced his resignation [JURIST report] amid unrelenting protests across Egypt. Iranian opposition leader Mehdi Karroubi [JURIST news archive] was placed under house arrest [JURIST report] in relation to calls by Karroubi and fellow opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi [JURIST news archive] for rallies in support of the recent political reform movements in Tunisia and Egypt.

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