The Algerian government warned it will be the opposition’s fault if a pro-democracy protest later this month turns violent.

Opposition leaders, human rights groups, unions, students and jobless workers are planning a march Feb. 12 in Algiers, the capital. They want the government to lift the state of emergency that has been in effect since 1992, end its ban on new political parties and generally be more transparent.

But Deputy Prime Minister Nouredine Yazid Zerhouni reminded organizers yesterday that the march is “officially banned.”

“Those who are calling for this march must take responsibility for damage or for things getting out of hand,” Zerhouni told reporters, adding that the government had no plans to lift its state of emergency.

Like many of its North African neighbours, Algeria, a nation of 35 million people, is on edge. Riots broke out last month after a spike in food prices, leaving two people dead, and hospital and bank employees are now on strike.

The government has closely watched the wave of resistance rippling across the Arab world —— especially the popular rebellion in neighbouring Tunisia that overthrew the country’s autocratic leader last month and the chaos now in Egypt over President Hosni Mubarak’s nearly 30-year rule.

On January 22, Algerian riot police clashed with rock-throwing protesters who tried to defy the ban on public gatherings and march in Algiers. The protesters shouted “Boutef out!”, a reference to President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who has been in power since 1999.

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