ALGIERS (Reuters) - The ousting of Tunisia’s president after a popular revolt should encourage the army in neighbouring Algeria to ease its grip on the country’s politics, Algeria’s main opposition leader said on Thursday.
Said Saadi, leader of the secular Rally for Culture and Democracy (RCD), also called for the release of dozens of Algerians arrested during riots that coincided with the climax of Tunisian protests earlier this month.
The RCD, the biggest holder of opposition seats in parliament, plans to stage a protest march on Saturday to push for the release of the prisoners.
Authorities in Algiers have not authorised the march and said it would “disturb public order”. “Citizens are urged to demonstrate wisdom and vigilance and ignore eventual provocative acts,” Algiers’ administrative governorate said in a statement carried by the official APS news agency.
Rises in food prices prompted days of riots in several Algerian towns, including the capital, in which officials say two people were killed and hundreds injured when rioters and police clashed.
Algerian media later reported attempts to copy the self-immolation of a Tunisian man that sparked the unrest there and ended President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali’s rule.
“If the opposition does not mobilise the crowds, we believe that we will have more devastating events than what happened in Tunisia,” Saadi told Reuters in an interview.
“The anger here is bigger than (it was) in Tunisia. In 2010, we had more than 9,700 riots and unrests,” Saadi added.
In a bid to ease the tension, Algeria cut the price of some foodstuffs by as much as half, helped by revenues from rising oil prices. It has also launched a five-year plan worth $286 billion to modernise the economy, create jobs and build houses.
Saadi also demanded the lifting of a state of emergency imposed in 1992 after the army scrapped the second round of elections that Islamists were poised to win.
He also demanded that authorities ease pressure on political parties. “I‘m a leader of a legal party, (and) I‘m a member of parliament, but I don’t have the right to appear on television”.
Saadi, who has been in the opposition for more than 20 years, said Algeria could overcome its political crisis if the army abandoned politics.
“The army should no longer be a decision maker, it has to become a state institution,” he said.
President -- and army chief -- Abdelaziz Bouteflika, has repeatedly stated his commitment to respecting the constitution and democracy.
Saadi believes more political changes are needed.
“What we need is a change of the political system. We need transparency, rule of state, accountability and democracy”.
Many Arab states and the West are concerned that radical Islamists may gain influence if authorities fully open the political stage.
Saadi dismissed that, saying: “The regime had used the Islamist card to prevent any changes”.