Monday, 21 February 2011

Algeria: Response of Western governments

The reaction of Western countries to last Saturday's demonstration and events in general in Algeria has been cautious. The UK, not surprisingly in view of its recent close support of the regime, has remained mute. Requests for comments from the EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton over the weekend by the EU observer were reportedly ignored.

France and the US, both wrong-footed by the course of events in North Africa and trying to play catch-up, called on Algeria to allow anti-government protests.

French foreign ministry spokesman Bernard Valero told reporters: "What is important in our eyes is that freedom of expression is respected and that the demonstrations are able to take place freely and without violence.” He said that France welcomed the Algerian government's promise of political concessions, including a pledge to lift a two-decade state of emergency welcomed as a "step in the right direction".

US State Department spokesman Philip Crowley was equally cautious. In a statement, he said: “We note the ongoing protests in Algeria, and call for restraint on the part of the security services. … We reaffirm our support for the universal rights of the Algerian people, including assembly and expression.”

From Brussels, head of the European Parliament Jerzy Buzek demanded that Algerian authorities “refrain from violence and respect their citizens' right to peaceful demonstration. Any and all demonstrators arrested should be released immediately."

Buzek also said, "The continuing state of emergency is unjustifiable and clearly hampers Algeria's prospects for the fair, peaceful and sustainable development of the country. … Opposition groups, civil society, and especially young people should have the right to freely express their criticism of the government. No government can ignore the call of its people."

Algeria may find its strongest condemnation coming from Germany. In a statement on ARD television, German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said: “The German government calls on the Algerian government to renounce all recourse to violence. These are demonstrators who want freedom, who are doing nothing more than exercising a human right, to know the right to defend with dignity their point of view. “As democrats we are on the side of democrats. I have already said that about Tunisia and Egypt. I say it again now in allusion to other countries."

For more news and expert analysis about Algeria, please see Algeria Focus and Algeria Politics & Security.

© 2011 Menas Associates

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