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25.12.2019 Europe

Algeria buries army chief Gaid Salah as protests continue

Canal Algerie/Handout via Reuters
LISTEN DEC 25, 2019
Canal Algerie/Handout via Reuters

Thousands of Algerians have gathered for the funeral army chief, Ahmed Gaid Salah, who died Monday. The Lieutenant general served as de-facto leader of the country after longtime president Abdelaziz Bouteflika stepped down in April in the face of mass street protests.

Gaid Salah died suddenly of a heart attack on Monday, at the age of 79. Newly-appointed president Abdelmadjid Tebboune declared three days of national mourning.

His body will be driven through the centre of Algiers and buried in the Al-Alia cemetery, where other presidents and senior figures are buried.

Like most of Algeria's rulers since independence from France in 1962, Gaid Salah is a veteran of the guerrilla war against French rule. He served as army chief for 15 years, and in April 2019 became the country's de-facto leader after he called for Bouteflika, his long-time ally, to step down, prompting his resignation.

​​​​​​​Gaid Salah pushed for an election to replace Bouteflika. Protesters saw the vote as a charade, to keep real power with the army. Tebboune won the 12 December election with 58.1 per cent of the vote, on a turnout of less than 40 per cent. Gaid Salah was widely seen as holding the reins.

He did not attempt to crush the peaceful protests, and he called for a change of the ruling elite in a country whose political system has been in place since the country's independence from France. But many demonstrators saw him as the main obstacle in their path.

They chanted "A civilian state, not a military state" and demanded Gaid Salah's resignation.

Despite three days of mourning this week, students and other protesters held their regular Tuesday demonstration, as they have every week since February.