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Algerian president announces the constitution will be revised

By the CNN Wire Staff
  • Bouteflika made the announcement in a nationally televised address on Friday night
  • "Necessary changes" must be made to the constitution to strengthen democracy, he said
  • Algeria's move comes as a wave of protests has swept across other Arab nations

(CNN) -- Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika announced In a nationally televised address Friday that a commission that will include experts in constitutional law will revise the country's constitution.

"It (the commission) will make proposals in compliance with the fundamental values of our society, before submitting them for approval by the parliament or to your vote by referendum," he said, according to state media.

Bouteflika said "necessary changes" must be made to the constitution in order to strengthen democracy. "I have expressed on many occasions my desire to revise the constitution and I reiterated this belief and this desire on several occasions," he said.

Bouteflika also stressed the importance of respecting human rights in Algeria. "Human rights respect must become a constant concern of the various leagues and national associations in charge of the issue," he said. "All means will be ensured so that they can be heard and accomplish their missions."

He called for institutions and administrations to participate.

In February, Algeria's government declared an end to a nearly two-decade state of emergency, lifting restrictions on speech and assembly imposed to combat an Islamist insurgency.

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

Algeria, like other Arab nations, faces a wave of protest that has toppled regimes in Egypt and Tunisia and led to open revolt in neighboring Libya.

Bouteflika's National Liberation Front has ruled the country since winning independence 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.

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.