New pro-reform rally in Algeria called for Feb. 19

The organizers of a pro-reform protest that brought thousands of Algerians onto the streets of the capital over the weekend called Sunday for another rally next week.

The Coordination for Democratic Change in Algeria — an umbrella group for human rights activists, unionists, lawyers and others — has called for the Feb. 19 demonstrations to take place throughout the country.

Saturday's rally — which came a day after an uprising in Egypt toppled that country's autocratic ruler — took place only in the capital, Algiers.

Organizers said around 10,000 took part in the gathering, though officials put turnout at 1,500. Many protesters held signs reading "Bouteflika out," in reference to President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, in power in the impoverished but gas-rich North African nation since 1999.

Under the country's long-standing state of emergency, public protests are banned in Algiers, and an estimated 26,000 riot police set up barriers throughout the city in a failed bid to quash Saturday's gathering, organizers said.

A human rights campaigner said police briefly detained around 400 people. No injuries were reported.

The hours-long rally dissolved peacefully Saturday afternoon, and Sunday was calm in the capital, though youth clashed with riot police in the eastern coastal city of Annaba.

The skirmish broke out after thousands of people responded Sunday to an ad in the local paper announcing job vacancies at Annaba's city hall. When it turned out no jobs were on offer, members of the angry mob started throwing stones at police.

Annaba is 375 miles (600 kilometers) east of Algiers, near the border with Tunisia.

Tensions have been high in Algeria since a spate of riots over high food prices early last month that left three dead. and recent uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt that deposed those country's leaders.

The success of those uprisings is fueling activists' hope for change in Algeria, although many in this conflict-scarred nation of 35 million people fear any prospect of a return to violence. The country lived through a brutal Islamist insurgency in the 1990s that left an estimated 200,000 people dead.

In Washington, U.S. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley called on the security services to exercise restraint.

"In addition, we reaffirm our support for the universal rights of the Algerian people, including assembly and expression," Crowley said. "These rights apply on the Internet. Moreover, these rights must be respected. We will continue to follow the situation closely in the days ahead."