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OBITUARIES: Omar Ouartilan

Omar Ouartilan, the Editor-in-chief of the Algiers Arabic daily newspaper El-Khabar, was one of a group of stalwart Algerian journalists who refused to give in to death threats by religious fundamentalists. Ignoring warnings from friends, he continued to go to the offices of El- Khabar, housed in the rambling building of La Maison de la Presse in central Algiers, taking the same route to and from work. It was on his way to work, just outside La Maison de la Presse on Tuesday 3 October, that he was shot dead.

Ouartilan was a dedicated journalist who did not want to fail his readers. Ensuring that the paper was printed on a daily basis, he put his own life at risk in the process. In the few interviews he gave during his editorship, he maintained that an editor was duty-bound to his readers. He felt that he could not take the easy way out and leave his country at a crucial moment in its history.

Ouartilan, who was in his mid-thirties, was bilingual in Arabic and French. Like his contemporary Bakhti Benaouda, he chose to edit an Arabic newspaper in order to reach a wider public, including readers from conservative circles who do not have adequate command of French. (Benaouda, an academic and the editor of the Arabic-language periodical At-Tebyine, was killed by fundamentalists in Oran last May.)

El-Khabar is an independent newspaper, with a circulation of some 135,000 and one of the most widely read Arabic- language dailies in Algiers, superseded only by the Constantine-based An-Nasr, whose circulation exceeds 340,000.

Despite the present political climate, Algeria is in an enviable position of having a relatively free press, and newspapers, both dailies and weeklies, appear to be on the increase. Since the beginning of the Nineties three new French dailies have appeared, including La Tribune, founded last year. Algerian editors seem set on maintaining a policy of free speech, in spite of constant death threats and the killing of a number of their colleagues.

Ouartilan's death brings the number of journalists killed in Algeria in the past three years to more than 50.

Farida Abu-Haidar

Omar Ouartilan, journalist: born c1960; died Algiers 3 October 1995.