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Algeria lifts 1992 emergency decree, state news agency says

By the CNN Wire Staff
Students protest in Algiers demanding repeal of a decree setting a benefit scheme for public officials.
Students protest in Algiers demanding repeal of a decree setting a benefit scheme for public officials.
  • The decree has limited Algerian freedoms for 19 years
  • Algeria, like other countries in the region, faces a wave of unrest
  • The government pledged to lift the emergency decree in early February
  • Algeria

(CNN) -- Algeria's government declared an end to a nearly two-decade state of emergency Tuesday, its state news agency announced, lifting restrictions on freedom of speech and assembly imposed to combat an Islamist insurgency.

The country's Council of Ministers approved the repeal Tuesday, the state-run Algeria Press Service reported. "The draft ordinance will come into force upon its imminent publication in the Official Journal," the council said in a statement carried by the agency.

The move comes as Algeria, like other Arab nations, faces a wave of protest that has toppled regimes in Egypt and Tunisia and led to open revolt in against longtime strongman Moammar Gadhafi in neighboring Libya. Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika announced this month that he would soon lift the emergency declaration, first imposed in 1992 and indefinitely renewed in 1993.

The emergency declaration was part of a clampdown on Islamist movements during a civil war that left more than 150,000 dead. But critics say the insurgency has long since diminished, and the law remained only to muzzle critics of the government.

Bouteflika's National Liberation Front has ruled the country since winning indepdendence from France in 1962, and Bouteflika has been in office since 1999.

U.S. analysts say Algeria faces some of the same problems that fueled uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt -- high rates of unemployment and a stagnant economy in particular. Protests over food prices began in January but quickly led to calls for political reform. On Sunday, anti-government protesters chanted, "The people demand the fall of the regime," and clashed with police and pro-government demonstrators, opposition leaders said.

The country's long-running clampdown began in 1991 when an Islamist party led early balloting in Algeria's first multiparty parliamentary elections. The military stepped in, canceled the second round of voting and launched a campaign against the Islamists that led to a full-scale insurgency, which effectively ended about a decade later.

Human Rights Watch says Algeria's government controls state broadcast outlets and sharply restricts private newspapers, with journalists facing prosecution for criticism of public officials. It says police also harass human rights activists who have campaigned for accountability for people killed or "forcibly disappeared" during the insurgency.

CNN's Caroline Faraj contributed to this report.