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Algeria: Thousands Mourn Army Chief Gaid Salah

Algeria: Thousands Mourn Army Chief Gaid Salah

Wednesday, 25 December, 2019 - 10:30
People stand with national flags and portraits of Algeria's late military chief Lieutenant general Ahmed Gaid Salah as they gather outside the People's Palace during his funeral in Algiers on Wednesday | AFP

Thousands of Algerians gathered on Wednesday for the funeral procession of the country’s powerful army chief, who fought for independence from France as a young man and this year became the country’s de facto leader.

The wooden coffin containing the body of Lieutenant-general Ahmed Gaid Salah arrived at 0630 GMT, covered in a national flag and carried by officers.

Surrounded by large numbers of motorbike outriders, the funeral procession converged on the palace, which was built in the 18th century for Ottoman governors.

Gaid Salah died suddenly of a heart attack on Monday aged 79, having determined the secretive state’s response to mass protests throughout this year calling for a wholesale change of the ruling elite.

“He did the right thing when he secured the millions who marched in the past 10 months demanding change,” said Abdesselam Selami, 52, a telecoms worker speaking to Reuters by phone from the capital’s Palais de Peuple. “Zero killed.”

As the protests reached their peak in April, Gaid Salah called for the veteran president, his longtime ally Abdelaziz Bouteflika, to step down, prompting his resignation soon after.

Although an interim president was appointed, Gaid Salah was widely seen as holding the reins. He did not attempt to crush the peaceful protests with violence, but many demonstrators saw him as the main obstacle in their path.

He pushed for an election to replace Bouteflika, a vote the protesters regarded as a charade as the real power would remain with the army.

They chanted “A civilian state, not a military state” and, as the protest wore on, demanded the resignation of Gaed Salah.

After Abdelmadjid Tebboune was elected president, he brought Gaid Salah onto the stage where he was sworn in before embracing him and presenting him with an order of merit.

The old general died four days later and Tebboune swiftly appointed Said Chengriha, head of the land forces and at 74 of the same generation as Gaed Salah, to replace him.

Chengriha, like Gaid Salah and most of Algeria’s other rulers since independence, is a veteran of the guerrilla war against French rule.

Though protesters have demanded that the old guard of rulers quit power, they have also throughout their demonstrations painted themselves as the successors to the generation which won freedom for Algeria.

The religious affairs ministry asked imams to lead prayers in Gaid Salah's memory on Wednesday.

He was due to be buried shortly after 1200 GMT in Martyrs' Square in Al-Alia cemetery, where former presidents and other major Algerian figures are laid to rest.

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