German foreign minister encourages Algeria to pursue reforms

German foreign minister encourages Algeria to pursue reforms

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle began a three-nation tour of North Africa Saturday by encouraging Algeria, a country that has been relatively unaffected so far by the Arab Spring uprisings, to pursue more reforms.

Westerwelle is on a three-day tour of Algeria, Libya and Tunisia, dpa reported.

His visit comes on the eve of the first anniversary of the toppling of Tunisia's president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, the first dictator to be ousted in the ongoing wave of uprisings in the region.

While Algerians have shown little appetite for revolution compared with their neighbours, Westerwelle advised President Abdelaziz Bouteflika's government to pursue reforms.

Sporadic protests in Algiers and Oran last year over the rising cost of living and lack of civil liberties saw the government end a 19-year state of emergency and rush through a number of electoral and media reforms.

After talks with his Algerian counterpart Mourad Medelci, Westerwelle remarked that "economic opportunities and a strong civil society go together."

The minister said he was glad that Algeria was allowing international observers to monitor a general election to be held in April.

"This is a strong sign for transparency," he told a press conference.

Westerwelle's visit aims to boost Germany's trade with North Africa and take the region's pulse as democratic elections propel moderate Islamist parties to power in several countries.

Later Saturday he was to meet with acclaimed novelist Boualem Sansal, a critic of Algeria's human rights record, whose books have been banned in the country.

He will also meet Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia, Industry Minister Mohammed Benmeradi and local business leaders.

Germany is particularly interested in developing solar power projects with Algeria, Africa's largest country by area, which is almost entirely covered by desert.

On Sunday his tour continues in Libya and Tunisia.

On January 14, Tunisia will mark one year since Ben Ali went into exile, paving the way for democratic elections nine months later and the installation of a democratic government.

Libyans also rose up against their leader but Moamer Gaddafi's troops fought back, starting a months-long civil war that ended with Gaddafi's killing by Western-backed rebels in October.

Westerwelle's visit to Libya is the shortest of his tour, with Germany still drawing criticism for having refused to participate in the NATO-led air campaign that helped topple Gaddafi's regime.

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