Hundreds of Algerian policemen set to be deployed to a riot-torn southern city have staged a protest march through the capital.

The police rarely hold such demonstrations and Tuesday's march comes at a delicate time for the country, with rumours that its long ruling president, who is rarely seen in public, is seriously ill.

Wearing blue uniforms but without weapons or armour, the 300 riot police walked silently in the rain along the highway from their barracks into Algiers and to the seat of the government, where they were briefly met by the local governor.

Drivers beeped their horns and people applauded the police as they passed by, the AP news agency reported.

The protesters were showing their solidarity for their colleagues in the southern oasis city of Ghardaia where security forces have regularly come under attack.

The area is the scene of constant riots, Djilali Boudalia, a police spokesman, told the state news agency APS.

Thousands of police have been sent to Ghardaia to stop the constant clashes between the rival Berber and Arab communities.

Ghadaia, about 600km from Algiers, is home to both Arabs and the Mozabite Berber community, which speaks its own language and follows its own school of Islam.

The area has often been a flashpoint for clashes as Arabs and Mozabites compete over jobs, houses and land.

About a dozen people have been killed and shops have been burned in riots that have flared since December over the competition.

Job conditions

Two people were killed in clashes on Monday and dozens of police wounded when violence once more erupted in the town of Berriane.

Youths from the two communities threw stones and petrol bombs and also set fire to several businesses, according to APS and Algerian media reports.

Despite being known for their ruthlessness in suppressing dissent, Algeria's security forces have not been able to calm the recurring unrest in Ghardaia.

The protesters demanded to see the Minister of Interior Tayeb Belaiz and also called for the removal of General Abdelghani Hamel, the head of security forces in the country, according to local media.

About 1,500 members of the police also protested in Ghardaia on Monday over their job conditions, arguing that they were not being allowed to use sufficient force to do their job and calling for Hamel to step down.

Source: Agencies