Algeria airs funeral of powerful military chief Gaid Salah

Algeria airs funeral of powerful military chief Gaid Salah
Algerian state television has aired the funeral of de-facto leader Ahmed Gaid Salah who died of a heart attack on Monday.
3 min read
25 December, 2019
Ahmed Gaid Salah died on Monday [Getty]

The funeral of Algeria’s powerful army chief Ahmed Gaid Salah got underway on Wednesday as his remains arrived at the People's Palace, images broadcast by state TV showed.

The wooden coffin containing the body of Gaid Salah, who died of a heart attack on Monday aged 79, 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 became the country's de facto strongman after longtime president Abdelaziz Bouteflika was forced to step down in the face of huge street protests in April.

Interim military chief of staff Said Chengriha was in attendance, while President Abdelmadjid Tebboune arrived a little after the procession.

Tebboune won a December 12 presidential election with 58.1 percent of the vote on a turnout of less than 40 percent, according to official results, in a poll dismissed by protesters as a ploy by Gaid Salah and other establishment figures to consolidate their power.

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

After his win, Tebboune awarded Gaid Salah the National Order of Merit, Algeria's highest honour. After the general's death he announced three days of national mourning.

Images broadcast by several TV stations showed a crowd massed at the gates of the palace to pay their final respects to Gaid Salah, who served as army chief for 15 years.

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.

'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."

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