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Algeria hails its religious freedom, critics not so sure

algiers (Photo: An Algerian stands near the newly restored Notre Dame D'Afrique Basilica in Algiers December 13, 2010/Zohra Bensemra)

A Catholic church that has been a landmark in Algeria's capital for over a century has officially re-opened after restoration work, providing a symbol of religious tolerance in the mainly Muslim country. Algeria is emerging from a nearly two-decade-long Islamist insurgency, but the Catholic community has maintained a presence, even though several Christian clergymen have been among hundreds of thousands killed in the violence.

The Notre Dame d'Afrique basilica was built by French settlers in the late nineteenth century.  An inscription running around the inside of the dome reads: "Our Lady of Africa, pray for us, and for the Muslims."

"Religious freedom in Algeria is a reality," Religious Affairs Minister Bouabdellah Ghlamallah told reporters after a ceremony to mark the completion of repair work on Monday. "Everybody has the right to practice their religion provided that the law is fully respected," he said.

Some human rights groups have questioned the commitment of the government in Algeria, a French colony until independence in 1962, to religious tolerance. Local media reported on Monday that a court gave suspended prison sentences to four Algerian Protestants for opening a non-Muslim place of worship without government permission.

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