Image: A demonstration at Tahrir Square in Baghdad, Iraq
Khalid Mohammed  /  AP
Maha al-Dori, a lawmaker loyal to anti-American Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, collects the demands of protesters during a demonstration Wednesday at Tahrir Square in Baghdad, Iraq.
msnbc.com news services
updated 2/24/2011 8:22:20 PM ET 2011-02-25T01:22:20

A look at Thursday's developments in the Arab world outside Libya as instability and anti-government protests inspired by uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia spread in the region.

ALGERIA: Emergency rule lifted, Obama praises move
Algeria officially lifted a state of emergency in place for the past 19 years.

The official APS news agency said the ordinance doing away with the restrictive measure was published in the Official Journal, a move that did away with it.

The Cabinet decided in a meeting earlier this week to take the step with the approval of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika. The state of emergency was put in place as Algeria embarked on an era of violence that ballooned into a deadly Islamist insurgency.

President Barack Obama praised the move.

"This is a positive sign that the Government of Algeria is listening to the concerns and responding to the aspirations of its people, and we look forward to additional steps by the government that enable the Algerian people to fully exercise their universal rights, including freedom of expression, association and assembly," he said in a prepared statement issued late Thursday.

Interior Minister Dahou Ould Kabila, however, announced earlier Thursday that protest marches would continue to be banned in the capital.

"The moment does not appear to have arrived to authorize marches in Algiers," he said in an Algerian radio interview. He said that Algeria remains a target for terrorists.

"Mobilizing police will drain them from other sensitive points in the city of Algiers," he said. "Algiers is targeted by leaders of terrorist groups (because) it gives them media impact."

Marches outside the capital must be authorized three days before an event, the minister said.

IRAQ: Warning against protest
Iraq's prime minister warned his people to boycott an anti-government protest planned for Friday, saying it was being organized by supporters of the ousted Saddam Hussein and al-Qaida.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki gave no proof for his assertion in a nationally televised speech Thursday, which echoed similar blanket statements he has made before blaming terrorists and Saddam loyalists for an array of problems in the country.

Religious figures including anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and the leader of Iraq's majority Shiite community also have raised doubts about the rally.

Al-Maliki's warning came around the same time a suicide bomber killed 11 people northeast of Baghdad, an official in Anbar province said.

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The warning was another sign of concern that the anti-government uprisings sweeping the Middle East will buffet Iraq as well. The organizers of the demonstrations Friday are calling for a "Day of Rage" on Facebook and other websites.

So far, Iraqis have held several small-scale protests around the country — occasionally punctuated by violent clashes between security forces and demonstrators — demanding better public services, more assistance for widows and orphans and greater protection for human rights. But unlike protests in the wider Middle East, they have generally not called for a complete change in government. Iraq is one of the few countries in the region where officials are democratically elected.

BAHRAIN: All issues on table
All issues can be brought to the table in a Bahraini national dialogue aimed at ending a standoff between the government and mainly Shiite protesters demanding an elected government, the foreign minister said on Thursday.

"Everything can be brought to the table," Foreign Minister Sheikh Khaled bin Ahmed al-Khalifa told Reuters in an interview, responding to questions over whether Bahrain would consider changes in its cabinet in response to protester demands.

He also said Hassan Meshaima, the exiled head of a Shiite group known as Haq, has been pardoned by the king and may safely return to Manama from London.

In a sign of Washington's deep ties to Bahrain, U.S. Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was in the kingdom for meetings with ruling officials.

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The actions follow a demonstration Wednesday when thousands of anti-government protesters flooded Manama's Pearl Square following the release of at least 100 political prisoners — including 25 Shiite activists on trial since last year for allegedly plotting against the state.

EGYPT: More officials arrested
Egyptian authorities on Thursday arrested the country's former information minister and the chairman of state TV and radio on corruption allegations, the latest moves by the country's ruling military against senior officials of Hosni Mubarak's ousted regime, security officials said.

In south Cairo, an angry crowd of some 500 people torched two police cars and beat up a young officer who shot a minibus driver in the heat of an argument over the right of way. The incident highlights the tension between police and Egyptians, many of whom are still bristling over years of police brutality and corruption.

Thursday's arrests of Anas al-Fiqqi, the ex-information minister, and Osama el-Sheikh, the state TV boss, were widely expected. Al-Fiqqi was placed under house arrest earlier this month and el-Sheikh was banned from traveling abroad Wednesday, steps that often precede a criminal investigation or a trial.

Al-Fiqqi was a confidante of Mubarak and his powerful, one-time heir apparent son Gamal. Under his and el-Sheikh's stewardship, state TV persistently discredited the young organizers of the 18-day uprising that forced Mubarak to hand power to the military after nearly 30 years of authoritarian rule.

Authorities also referred to trial two former cabinet ministers and a one-time top official of Mubarak's political party. They'll face corruption charges, the security officials said.

Egypt's media have been buzzing with reports of spectacular corruption by members of Mubarak's regime as well as businessmen linked to his government. Authorities are inviting Egyptians to come forward with evidence of alleged corruption by the toppled regime, pledging not to reveal their identities.

Mubarak himself has been swept up by the anti-graft campaign that has followed his stunning ouster. Earlier this week, authorities froze his assets abroad, as well as those of his wife, two sons and their wives.

Also Thursday, Interior Minister Mahmoud Wagdy ordered the release of 189 prisoners — 159 of them political — the official Middle East News Agency said. MENA said security agencies are reviewing the detainees case files before the prisoners can be released.

SAUDI ARABIA: Plugging oil gaps
Top world oil exporter Saudi Arabia is in talks with European companies affected by the disruption in Libyan supply and is willing and able to plug any gaps in supply, senior Saudi sources said on Thursday.

Oil industry sources said Saudi officials have been in touch with Spanish and Italian oil firms -- among those hit by the Libyan shutdowns. The companies were assessing their needs and have yet to ask for any more Saudi oil.

The Saudi sources said Saudi Arabia was able to pump more of the kind of high-quality crude produced by OPEC member Libya and that it could be shipped quickly to Europe with the help of a pipeline that crosses the kingdom.

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Oil prices have surged toward $120 a barrel because of the unrest and disruption to supply in Libya. Refineries in Europe import about 80 percent of Libya's 1.3 million barrels per day (bpd) of exports, analysts say.

"We are in active talks with European refineries to find out what quality they want and we are ready to ship it as soon as they need it. This is the way buyers and sellers work. We need to find out what they want before we take any action," a senior Saudi source told Reuters.

"Some OPEC countries have started looking at ways to divert their crude to Europe."

Also, influential intellectuals asked Saudi Arabia's monarch to adopt far-reaching political and social reforms, saying Arab rulers should derive a lesson from the uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya and listen to the voice of disenchanted young people.

The group includes renowned Islamic scholars, a female academic, a poet and a former diplomat.

Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah on Wednesday nearly doubled a development fund that helps citizens buy homes, get married and start businesses, and sets up unemployment assistance for the first time. The move pumped 40 billion riyals ($10.7 billion) into the fund, in a step that appears aimed at shoring up popular support and fending off unrest that has spread to neighboring Bahrain.

YEMEN: Dialogue for demonstrators
Yemen's president on Thursday ordered the formation of a government committee to open a dialogue with protesters who have been staging demonstrations for weeks demanding the president step down, state media reported.

President Ali Abdullah Saleh's directive appeared to mark a significant concession in the standoff with the opposition, as well as an attempt to defuse the demonstrations that have been inspired by the successful uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia.

The protesters in Yemen, an impoverished country with a weak central government and an active branch of al-Qaida, are demanding the resignation of the U.S.-backed Saleh, who has been in power for 32 years.

Saleh has refused to resign, but has said he will not run for another term in national elections in 2013.

Yemen's official SABA news agency said Saleh ordered his prime minister to lead the five-member committee that it to "have a constructive and open dialogue with the young brothers, including protesters ... and to listen to their conditions and visions."

There was no immediate response from opposition figures.

SABA also reported that the president and top officials on Thursday discussed Yemen's economy and ways of solving the country's chronic unemployment problem. A lack of jobs in Yemen has been one of the complaints of the protesters.

The anti-government protests have left at least 13 demonstrators dead since the crisis began nearly a month ago.

Earlier Thursday, security officials said one person was killed and two were wounded when a grenade was thrown at demonstrators demanding to secede from northern Yemen.

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JORDAN: Warning for Americans
The U.S. Embassy issued a warning message to Americans to avoid potentially large anti-government protests in Jordan.

The country is bracing for nationwide demonstrations on Friday to protest against physical attacks by so-called "thugs." Eight activists were wounded in clashes with pro-government protesters last Friday.

Jordan has seen street protests in the last eight weeks, but with much smaller crowds than in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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