The officials called on him to stand down "because he represents a threat to the stability of our country, a danger to public order and security, and an insult to the dignity of the Algerian people and the sovereignty of elected assemblies".

Their call came a day after police broke up an anti-Bouteflika demonstration outside parliament amid a widening rift within the FLN as presidential elections loom in April.

Scores of protesters demonstrated on Sunday against a court ruling last week which froze the FLN's activities and funding.

The ruling also nullified the results of a party congress that re-elected former head of government Ali Benflis as the party's secretary general.

Bouteflika has lost the ruling
party's backing

The party congress broadened Benflis' powers while dropping its backing of Bouteflika, whose election in 1999 was marred by the withdrawal of six other candidates alleging massive fraud.

Election fraud

Bouteflika, who has not yet said whether he will seek re-election, sacked Benflis as head of government eight months ago.

This sparked the rift in the FLN which has since deepened, pitting the president's backers against those of his former head of government and right-hand man.

Sunday's protest was blocked by riot police 300 metres from the National Assembly. From the barricades the protesters shouted support for Benflis, who is running for president in April.

The protesters also called for a "Free and Democratic Algeria" and chanted anti-Bouteflika slogans.

They called the president a "dictator" and a "traitor" as the riot police and a few passers-by looked on.

FLN lawmaker Abd al-Aziz Chalabi had a mild heart attack when he was jostled by police who moved in to disperse the demonstrators. A dozen protesters were also slightly injured, witnesses said.

Anti-Bouteflika demonstration

Benflis was sacked by Bouteflika
eight months ago

Supporters said earlier on Monday that while Chalabi's condition had improved, he was still under observation at Mustapha hospital in Algiers.

Meanwhile, newspapers and diplomats in Algeria have warned that Sunday's unrest could be a harbinger of incidents to come in the run-up to the elections.

"Serious clashes could take place between the two sides if the presidential clan decides to organise 'spontaneous demonstrations' to show their backing for the president, as it is in the habit of doing," a Western diplomat said.

The papers recalled demonstrations in May and June 1991, when backers of the now banned Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) staged several days of street protests in Algiers which degenerated into running battles with the security forces.

Algeria plunged into civil war in 1992 when elections which the FIS was poised to win were cancelled by the government. At least 150,000 people have died in the war.