Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika and the private press have gone to war over a visit to Israel by a group of journalists, which the head of state considers no less than "treason".
The storm has been brewing in the past week as Bouteflika lashed out at the press for letting down "fellow peoples" by traveling to an "oppressor" nation and journalists founded a group to stave off reprisals against their colleagues.
"My country has been really affected by seeing some of its children defying the traditions of their ancestors," Bouteflika said in Tunis on Friday during an address to the parliament.
"They have transgressed against the values of their people and committed an unforgivable mistake with regard to the brother peoples in Lebanon, Syria and Palestine," he said.
The error, in Bouteflika's eyes, amounted to an "an act of violence which feeds terrorism because it gives equal footing to the oppressor and the oppressed, the colonizer and the colonized," he added.
Many journalists, for their part, have forgotten their own squabbles to rally behind those under attack. On Saturday, they set a "support and follow-up committee", and they plan Monday to go en masse to Algiers airport to protect those returning from Israel from what the group fears will be "arbitrary measures".
Bouteflika, who has considerable support in Algeria for his efforts to tackle residual domestic terrorism by armed Islamic extremists which had ravaged the country for years, called on "our people to denounce" the journalists, the APS news agency reported.
However, the National Union of Journalists (SNJ) declared itself "revolted to the utmost extent" by Bouteflika's declarations and warned against "any attempt to harm the moral and physical integrity of journalists".
The chief editor of the newspaper El-Khabar said that "it is not in the interests of the authorities to poison things even more. But we should be ready for any eventuality and remain mobilized until the end of this sorry affair."
Top staff on the main dailies last Thursday turned down an invitation for talks from Prime Minister Ahmed Benbitour and called for a boycott of a visit he was making to west Algeria.
These papers consider that a dozen colleagues and academics have been subjected to a "media lynching" for beginning the first such visit from Algeria to Israel on June 27th and notably meeting Foreign Minister David Levy in Jerusalem.
For some, Bouteflika's outburst against them is almost a incitement to murder. The trip "has given the head of state and his Islamist-conservative allies a pretext to go to war against the press that upsets them," the daily Le Matin considered - ALGIERS (AFP)
© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)