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Algeria to lift state of emergency in 'coming days,' minister says

By the CNN Wire Staff
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Tensions erupt in Algeria
  • NEW: It will mean an Algeria that "allows the expression of opinions," minister says
  • The law has been in effect for 20 years
  • Announcement comes days after security forces clash with protesters
  • The protesters took to the streets to demand government reform
  • Algeria

(CNN) -- A 20-year state of emergency in Algeria will be lifted in the "coming days," authorities said Monday, days after protesters took to the streets to demand government reform.

"Soon, we will discuss the past, but I say that lifting the state of emergency will occur in the coming days," Foreign Minister Mourad Medelci said on French radio Europe 1.

It will mean a "return to Algeria, a rightful state which totally allows, the expression of opinions, but always with reference to the law," he said.

The announcement comes after anti-government protesters chanting "change the power!" clashed with security forces in the capital over the weekend, witnesses said.

The minister downplayed the protests, referring to them as "minority" movements.

"And, I guess from march to march, they will not do better," he said.

About 100 protesters were arrested during the protests in Algiers on Saturday, according to the opposition Algerian League for Human Rights. The minister told the radio station all the people detained have been released.

The state of emergency was imposed in 1992 to quell a civil war that led to the deaths of what U.S. officials estimate to be more than 150,000 people.

Earlier this month, Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika said he would lift the ban in the "very close future."

Experts have said the announcement is an attempt by government officials to head off the kind of social unrest that toppled Tunisian and Egyptian presidents.

Demonstrators in the region have protested various issues, including unemployment, high food costs and corruption. The problems are similar to those that fueled the uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia.

The Algerian civil war lasted more than a decade.

"It pitted a corrupt military junta, which had ruled behind the facade of an elected government, against Islamists who effectively won a popular election in the early 1990s, and were then deprived of power," the Centers for Strategic and International Studies said recently.

"When civil war broke out, violent extremist elements among these Islamists quickly came to dominate the fighting, while the military increasingly relied on equally violent repression."

Critics say the Islamist threat has long since diminished and the law exists only to muzzle government critics.