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Algeria warned against protesting

Bouteflika government tries to preempt pro-democracy demonstrations.

Algerian protesters
Algerian demonstrators wave flags outside the opposition Rally for Culture and Democracy party's headquarters in Algiers on Jan. 22, 2011. (AFP/Getty Images)

CASABLANCA, Morocco — Inspired by the wave of uprisings against authoritarian regimes across the Arab world, Algeria's opposition has called for a pro-democracy march in Algiers next week.

A demonstration march is planned for Feb. 12 by opposition leaders, unions, students and human rights groups who want President Abdelaziz Bouteflika's government to lift a state of emergency and end its ban on new political parties.

The Algerian government warned that the march is banned and that it will be the protesters fault if there is violence.

Signs that the unrest in Tunisia and Egypt may spread to Algeria caused the international credit rating agency Standard and Poor's to issue a warning Wednesday.

Algeria has high unemployment, rising food prices and an entrenched regime similar to those in Tunisia and Egypt. Some Algerians say their country is a prime candidate for a popular revolt.

"There is a profound dissatisfaction within the population," said Addi Lahouari, a native of Algeria and professor at the Institut d'Etudes Politiques in Lyon, France. "The practice of politics is banned in Algeria by the army. Meaning that it is impossible for the people to pick their representatives and hold them accountable."

Lahourari added: "It is time the military becomes aware of the extent of the disaster and initiates a peaceful change. It is time to break the deadlock by opening national television. It is urgent to let the various political currents in the country express themselves freely."

Already Algeria has had weeks of sporadic protests and riots. Calls for protest and change continue on Facebook, Twitter and on the streets. No large organized movement yet exists in Algeria. The government has tried to ease tensions by subsidizing food prices and promising more changes in the weeks to come. Despite their efforts, more demonstrations are planned and people’s demands are growing.

Algerian officials say the demands are not in the same league as those in other countries because protesters are not demanding a change of government, unlike the demands of protesters in Egypt and Tunisia.

"Protesters in Algeria want better social and economic conditions. They did not make political demands as is the case in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen and Jordan," said Abdelaziz Belkhadem, the head of Algeria's ruling FLN party and a cabinet minister.

Bouteflika is considering high-level cabinet changes after more demonstrations were planned, Belkhadem told Reuters.

In several Algerian cities, including the capital, riots broke out in January after a steep jump in food prices. After an unemployed man immolated himself to spark the Tunisian revolt, there were 10 protest burnings in Algeria in which two people died. More than 1,000 Algerian demonstrators were injured during clashes between protesters and police. Protesters say they are rejecting a government system that protects a small minority of privileged elite while repressing everyone else.