Algeria marks independence, but shortcomings remain

Algeria on Thursday marked 50 years since gaining independence from France with pomp and fireworks as media gave a critical assessment of its economic performance five decades after the revolution.

The celebrations kicked off with a giant open air performance on Wednesday night inspired by the liberation struggle, followed by nationwide fireworks displays with more festivities due throughout the coming year.

After attending the historical musical, "The Hero" at the seaside resort of Sidi Fredj where the French landed in 1830, Abdel Aziz Bouteflika on Thursday visited a memorial for hundreds of thousands of "martyrs" in Algiers.

The war for independence lasted seven-and-a-half years and killed 1.5 million Algerians, according to official figures.

Bouteflika, 75, who took part in the war for liberation, placed a wreath of flowers at the shrine which overlooks the bay of Algiers surrounded by top brass and political officials. He later chaired a ceremony for new army graduates.

Another fireworks display was to light the skies over the monument on Thursday night.

But the celebrations come amid tough times for Algeria, where unemployment tops the 20 percent mark, targeting mostly the country's youth who represent two thirds of the population.

Five decades after gaining its independence, Algeria is facing critics who charge that authorities have failed to tap the country's wealthy oil and gas resources to develop the North African nation and achieve true democracy.

The French-language daily Le Soir summed up the mood of critics with a front-page report headlined: "From hope to sordid reality," which listed Algeria's shortcomings.

The newspaper said Algeria moved from revolution to socialism and then plunged into "anarchy" followed by a political "bazaar" and then a "ruthless civil war" between 1992 and 2000.

An editorial in Liberte went on to say how Algeria "never savored the victory of liberation" and fell into the grips of "power-thirsty clans."

Thursday's newspapers agreed that Algeria's worst shortcoming was and remains its inability to steer the nation away from dependence on oil and gas, which account for 97 percent of export earnings.

Algeria has failed to develop its industrial sector which last year represented a mere five percent of gross domestic product.

Small and medium-sized business published a letter in the press addressed to Bouteflika urging him to help them revive the economy by easing red-tape and bureaucracy that plague the country.

At the same time dozens of job-seekers gathered on Thursday in central Algiers in a bid to demonstrate but were dispersed by the police, a blogger and a human rights group said.

"At least three of them were detained and taken to a police station," the Algerian League for the Defense of Human Rights said, while blogger Tarek Mameri said "dozens" rallied in central Algeria.

"Among the protesters were unemployed people who came from across the country to raise awareness about their situation," the human rights watchdog said, calling for the immediate release of those detained.

Unemployment topped 20 percent last November in the nation of 37 million people, according to the International Monetary Fund, and annual inflation officially reached 6.4 percent in April.

Bouteflika this year launched political reforms in the wake of bloody riots one and a half years ago and a series of strikes at the time when Arab Spring swept through neighboring Tunisia and Libya.

But experts say the political elite that emerged from the national liberation war is getting old and the political system increasingly obsolete.

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