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Press Conference on ‘Group of 77’ Chairmanship Handover, Situation in Algeria

The voices of more than 80 per cent of the world’s population — represented at the United Nations by the “Group of 77” developing countries and China — would be heard loudly in 2012, Algerian Foreign Minister Mourad Medelci said today at a Headquarters press conference after his country took over the bloc’s chairmanship.

Many of the priority challenges to be addressed in the coming year revolved around the global economic and financial crisis, said Mr. Medelci, whose country received the Group of 77 reins from Argentina in a formal ceremony held earlier today. Noting that the crisis affected the world almost universally, he stressed that solutions must therefore be expressed “through a process of solidarity”. The Group of 77, representing 132 countries and 81 per cent of the world’s population, was uniquely placed to contribute to such a solution, he added.

Indeed, a new order was needed in the world’s financial, trade and development sectors, he said, adding that regulation was also required to better prevent future crises. “It’s important to better bring to light what was at the start of the crisis,” said Mr. Medelci, describing one way in which the Group of 77 could contribute to improving the current state of affairs. The other was to propose solutions, in terms of both “thinking and implementation”, and with the concerted involvement of a wide array of voices from around the world. Highlighting several other priority challenges for 2012, he said food security, sustainable development and access to energy were at the top of the Group’s agenda.

Mr. Medelci also summarized some of Algeria’s key achievements in the last decade, including a drop in the unemployment rate from 30 per cent to 10 per cent, a total lack of foreign debt and a new law that would open television and radio outlets to private investment for the first time. In addition, a constitutional amendment passed in 2008 had now reserved 20 to 40 per cent of parliamentary posts for women, he said, adding that it would apply in the national elections slated for May.

Asked whether he felt a true civil war was taking place in Syria, he said he did not believe so, adding that on a recent visit there, he had found that large sections of the country were calm. However, many of the recent problems faced both by Syrians and by the Arab League mission were a result of a two-way conflict between the Government and armed opposition forces. Hopefully, the opposition would adopt a peaceful approach, he said, noting that if it continued to arm itself, there would be a much greater risk of civil war.

When asked how he felt, as an Arab and an Algerian, about a statement by Anwar Malek, a member of the Arab League mission who had resigned, calling the exercise a “farce” and stating that a humanitarian crisis was occurring “under its nose”, Mr. Medelci stressed that multiple opinions of the mission were welcome, and that the most important thing was for the Arab League to maintain a presence on the ground that would lead to an objective assessment.

He went on to state that the mission had decided to move forward in several key areas, including putting pressure on the Government to honour its commitment to withdraw the military, open up the media, and release prisoners. Some steps had been taken along those lines, but more were needed, he said. Another important observation was that the 160-strong observer mission needed additional manpower, he noted. To that end, the League was taking steps to double the number of observers.

“What the Arab League is doing is courageous,” he stressed, reiterating that the mission’s greatest challenges now had to do with Syria’s armed opposition. However, the task was not easy and the situation could not be resolved in just a few weeks, he cautioned, saying that another 10 days, at least, would be required by the assessment mission alone.

Asked about the state of his country’s economy, the Minister said Algeria was still attempting to close a “historical lag” which had led to inequalities among its citizens. In the last 10 years, however, “huge progress” had been made.

When asked whether an “Arab Spring” revolution would affect Algeria, he replied that his country was different from Tunisia, Libya, Egypt and Syria in several important ways. First and foremost, those countries had suffered from closed political systems, centralized Government powers, socio-economic problems and a lack of freedom of expression. The Arab Spring was a manifestation of their desire for change. Algeria, on the other hand, had built its system on the idea of pluralism, he said, pointing out that it had multiple political parties and a largely private print media. Algerians also enjoyed the freedom to criticize the Government.

Mr. Medelci also responded to a question about the reaction of the Group of 77 to the newly truncated United Nations budget, saying that budgets were never considered to be sufficient by anyone who relied on them, and dissatisfaction frequently increased when times were hard.

Speaking more generally about the world’s financial situation, he expressed hope that global belt-tightening would not further fracture the relationship between developed and developing countries. The rich would have to help the poor, he said, noting that countries of the global North had not fully honoured their pledges to provide official development assistance.

Pointing to the expansion of media and the Internet, he said the world’s poor now saw images of other parts of the world and realized how great inequalities truly were. Indeed, globalization should not benefit only certain people, but all people, he stressed. He said there was a need to recognize the prevailing “crisis of thinking”, adding that the Group of 77 hoped to create mechanisms that would lead away from inequality and towards “true solidarity”.

For information media • not an official record