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Country profile: Algeria PDF Print E-mail

Algeria, a gateway between Africa and Europe, has been battered by violence over the past half-century.

More than a million Algerians were killed in the fight for independence from France in 1962, and the country has recently emerged from a brutal internal conflict that followed scrapped elections in 1992.

The Sahara desert covers more than four-fifths of the land. Oil and gas reserves were discovered here in the 1950s, but most Algerians live along the northern coast. The country supplies large amounts of natural gas to Europe and energy exports are the backbone of the economy.

Algeria was originally inhabited by Berbers until the Arabs conquered North Africa in the 7th century. Staying mainly in the mountainous regions, the Berbers resisted the spreading Arab influence, managing to preserve much of their language and culture. They make up some 30% of the population.

Part of the Turkish Ottoman empire from the 16th century, Algeria was conquered by the French in 1830 and was given the status of a "departement". The struggle for independence began in 1954 headed by the National Liberation Front, which came to power on independence in 1962.

In the 1990s Algerian politics was dominated by the struggle involving the military and Islamist militants. In 1992 a general election won by an Islamist party was annulled, heralding a bloody civil war in which more than 150,000 people were slaughtered.

An amnesty in 1999 led many rebels to lay down their arms.

Although political violence in Algeria has declined since the 1990s, the country has been shaken by by a campaign of bombings carried out by a group calling itself Al-Qaeda in the Land of Islamic Maghreb (AQLIM).

Although experts doubt that the group has direct operational links with Osama Bin-Laden, its methods - which include suicide bombings - and its choice of targets, such as foreign workers and the UN headquarters in Algiers, are thought to be inspired by Al-Qaeda. North African governments fear that local Islamist groups in Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia may be linking up under the umbrella of the new movement.

In 2001 the government agreed to a series of demands by the minority Berbers, including official recognition of their language, after months of unrest involving Berber youths demanding greater cultural and political recognition.

Facts


  • Full name: The People's Democratic Republic of Algeria
  • Population: 34.4 million (UN, 2008)
  • Capital: Algiers
  • Area: 2.4 million sq km (919,595 sq miles)
  • Major languages: Arabic, French, Berber
  • Major religion: Islam
  • Life expectancy: 71 years (men), 74 years (women) (UN)
  • Monetary unit: 1 dinar = 100 centimes
  • Main exports: Oil, gas
  • GNI per capita: US $3,620 (World Bank, 2007)
  • Internet domain: .dz
  • International dialling code: +213

Leaders


 

President: Abdelaziz Bouteflika

Abdelaziz Bouteflika secured a landslide election victory in April 2004. He promised to seek "true national reconciliation" during his second term. The military - traditionally a key player in Algerian politics - pledged neutrality during the poll.

Algerian president
President Bouteflika has focused on reconciliation

On first taking office in 1999 he promised to restore national harmony and to end years of bloodshed.

He released thousands of Muslim militants and won backing for a civil concord in 1999 which offered an amnesty to armed militants.

Many of the rebels accepted and the violence declined. Voters backed a second amnesty for the remaining militants, laid out in the president's "charter for peace and reconciliation", in a 2005 referendum.

Algeria under President Bouteflika has won praise from the West for backing the US-led "war on terror". At home, many credit him with the return of security. But some campaigners say abuses by the security forces go on and rights group Amnesty International says allegations about the torture of detainees continue to be reported.

Mr Bouteflika says he wants to tackle Algeria's economic ills, including high unemployment and a dependency on energy exports.

A veteran of the war for independence from France, Mr Bouteflika was Algeria's foreign minister for 16 years until 1979. He went into self-imposed exile for several years in the 1980s to escape corruption charges that were later dropped.

Power is concentrated in the presidency, with parliament considered as a rubber-stamping body.

 

Media


Algeria's television and radio stations are state-controlled, but there is a lively private press which often criticises the authorities.

There is no direct censorship, but laws set out prison terms and fines for insulting or defaming the president, MPs, judges and the army.

Reader at newspaper stand, Algiers
Algeria's private press can be lively
Media rights bodies have accused the government of using the laws to control the private press.

Algerian dailies mark the anniversary of the introduction of the defamation laws by suspending publication in a protest known as a "day without newspapers".

Satellite TV is popular; stations based in France target viewers in Algeria and European channels are widely-watched.

Algeria can be a dangerous environment for media workers; 57 journalists were murdered between 1993-97. Most of the killings were blamed on armed Islamist groups.

Most internet users rely on dial-up connections and cybercafes for access. Access is not restricted, but users and ISPs can face prosecution over material deemed to be offensive or harmful to public order.

The press:

Television:

Radio:

  • Algerian Radio - operated by state-run Radio-Television Algerienne, runs national Arabic, Berber and French networks and several local stations

News agencies:

 

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