Security forces blocked planned anti-government protests in the capital [AFP]

Abdelaziz Bouteflika, the Algerian president, has promised wide-ranging political reforms in his country, while security forces blocked planned protests in the capital Algiers.

In comments carried on state media on Saturday, Bouteflika said that the lifting of Algeria's 19-year-old state of emergency last month was the first step on the way to reform.

The end of the emergency "will be a new page opened on the path to comprehensive reforms ... which cannot be fruitful in the absence of political reforms," the APS news agency quoted Bouteflika as saying, but gave no details about the reforms.

In Algiers security forces swamped the capital, hampering two rallies, one called by youths through the social networking website Facebook, due outside the main post office, and another at the nearby May 1 Square, called by the National Co-ordination for Change and Democracy (CNDC).

The planned protest was the seventh attempt since January by the CNDC to stage a weekly demonstration, along the lines of pro-democracy protests sweeping the Arab world, in defiance of a ban on protests in the capital imposed in 2001.

A small number of protesters reportedly made it through the security barricades.

Many Algerians have expressed discontent about high unemployment, poor housing conditions, high prices and restrictions on political freedoms.

Political reforms proposed by some Algerian politicians include amending the constitution to limit presidents to two terms in office, and allowing new parties to register.

Source: Agencies