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Algerian Government, Opposition Rally Over Security, Economy

  • Associated Press

Governing FLN party chief Amar Saadani waves to supporters during a rally held in Algiers, Algeria, March 30, 2016.

Governing FLN party chief Amar Saadani waves to supporters during a rally held in Algiers, Algeria, March 30, 2016.

Political tensions are bubbling between Algeria's governing party and the opposition as threats of Islamic extremist violence and low oil prices that are pummeling the energy-dependent economy.

Citing security threats, the governing FLN held a stadium rally Wednesday to show what party chief Amar Saadani called "a front united behind President [Abdelaziz] Bouteflika and our army, mobilized more than ever to defend the borders of our country.''

"Our country is exposed to terrorism on every side,'' Saadani told the crowd.

Algeria is home to al-Qaida's North Africa branch, which stages sporadic attacks, and the government is worried about spillover violence from neighboring Libya, Tunisia and Mali.

The FLN also called for "economic alternatives'' for the country. The government, which relies heavily on natural gas profits, is trying to prevent public unrest as low oil prices hurt income and subsidies.

Opposition members, meanwhile, accused the FLN of scare-mongering to distract Algerians from economic woes, and opposition leader Ali Benflis called for early elections because of Bouteflika's long-ailing health.

Opposition groups held their own rally in an Algiers suburb to create a new political movement and call for peaceful demonstrations around the country. The movement "is sending a message to young Algerians, and indeed the whole populace, that the current power is the only danger to the country,'' said party activist Younes Sabeur Cherif.

Moderate Islamist party leader Abderazzak Makri warned that if the country does not hold peaceful early elections, it could see a return to the violence between Islamist insurgents and security forces that left some 200,000 people dead in the 1990s.

For weeks, Algerian authorities have been raising the alarm about security risks, announcing military operations and success in thwarting efforts to smuggle weapons into the country. Earlier this month, gunmen linked to al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb attacked a gas facility operated by Britain's BP and Norway's Statoil.

Religious affairs minister Mohamed Aissa urged imams to address the threat of extremist violence during last week's services.