Ahmed Gaid Salah, Algeria's de-facto leader, dies

Ahmed Gaid Salah, Algeria's de-facto leader, dies
Military strongman Ahmed Gaid Salah died of a heart attack on Monday.
2 min read
23 December, 2019
Gaid Salah died of a heart attack on Monday [Getty[
Algeria’s de-facto leader Ahmed Gaid Salah has died at the age of 79 state media has announced.

The powerful army chief died on Monday after suffering a heart attack, leaving the country’s powerful army without an immediate leader.

He was appointed to the head of armed forces by former president Abdelaziz Bouteflika, leaving him to be the backbone of Algeria's opaque regime - he became one of the North African country's most powerful men.

For years, Gaid Salah unwaveringly supported Bouteflika, even backing the octogenarian's unpopular bid early this year for a fifth term in office.

But the president's February announcement that he would stand for election yet again sparked weeks of unprecedented mass demonstrations.

In early April, Gaid Salah called on his boss to resign; Bouteflika quit the same day.

Read more: 'No to the vote': Algerians smash ballot boxes in protest at 'rigged' election

That left the army chief effectively in control of the country.

A brutal solider

Born in 1940 in Batna region, some 300 kilometres (190 miles) southwest of Algiers, Gaid Salah has spent more than six decades in the armed forces. 

At the age of 17, he joined Algeria's National Liberation Army in its gruelling eight-year war against French colonial forces.

When the North African country proclaimed its independence in 1962 after 132 years as a French colony, he joined the army, attended a Soviet military academy and rose through the ranks.

Gaining a reputation for a hot temper, he commanded several regions before becoming chief of Algeria's land forces at the height of a decade-long civil war pitting the regime against Islamist insurgents.

In 2004, as he hit retirement age, he was picked by Bouteflika to replace chief of staff Mohamed Lamari, who opposed the president's quest for a second mandate.

Towards the end of his life, he was seen as a thorn in the side of protesters, who took to the streets for change.

"Gaid Salah is not a great strategist. He acts like a brutal soldier," said Moussaab Hammoudi, a PhD candidate at the School for Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences (EHESS) in Paris earlier this month.

"He is a frustrated person (who) acts by impulse, without reflection, without consultation," he added.

"For him, Algeria is a huge barracks, and making a concession is a weakness."

Agencies contributed to this report

Follow us on Twitter and Instagram to stay connected