Algerian riot police line up in Annaba, 600km east of Algiers, Algeria on Sunday. Calm has returned to the Algerian capital Algiers a day after thousands of people took part in a banned pro-reform gathering. Image Credit: AP

Dubai: The 19-year-old state of emergency in Algeria will end within days, Foreign Minister Mourad Medelci said yesterday, brushing off concerns that recent protests in the country could escalate as in Tunisia and Egypt.

A state of emergency has been in force in Algeria since 1992 and the government has come under pressure from opponents, inspired by uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia, to rescind the unpopular laws.

Several hundred protesters took to the streets in the capital Algiers on Saturday and opposition groups said they would demonstrate every weekend until the government is changed.

Ali Yahya Abdul Nour, one of the senior leaders of the Coordination for Democratic Change in Algeria (CDCA), told Gulf News that protesters will take to the streets every Saturday until their demands are met.

Nour, who served as a minister in the government of Algeria's first president following its 1962 liberation, said that scrapping of the emergency was only one of a long list of demands.

Freedom of press and the release of prisoners of conscience also figure high on the list.

"The ever-rising unemployment amongst the youth must be controlled by the government which has to work sincerely to end corruption," he said.

Any delay in tackling these critical issues will result in an popular revolt like that in Tunisia and Egypt, Nour warned.

France welcomes move

France welcomed as a "step in the right direction" the Algerian government's promise of political concessions, including the lifting of the emergency.

It also called on Algeria to allow anti-government protests to take place freely.

"What is important in our eyes is that freedom of expression is respected and that demonstrations are allowed to take place freely and without violence," foreign ministry spokesman Bernard Valero said.

The US and Germany on Sunday urged the Algerian authorities to exercise restraint, a day after a massive security operation prevented 2,000 protesters from marching in Algiers.

Confident approach

Algeria's foreign minister has dismissed the protest marches as actions by a small minority and not the start of popular uprisings like those in Tunisia or in Egypt that overthrew long-standing presidents.

Medelci yesterday told Europe 1 radio that Saturday's protest march in Algiers was the work of a minority and that one set for this weekend likely "won't do any better".

He said in the radio interview that "Algeria is not Tunisia. Algeria is not Egypt."

Widespread unrest in Algeria could have implications for the world economy since it is a major oil and gas exporter, but many analysts have said an Egyptian-style revolt is unlikely because the government can use its energy wealth to placate protesters.