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Thousands turn out for funeral of Algerian army chief Gaid Salah

People gather outside the Palace of the People during the funeral of Algeria's military chief Lieutenant General Ahmed Gaid Salah in Algiers, Algeria December 25, 2019.
People gather outside the Palace of the People during the funeral of Algeria's military chief Lieutenant General Ahmed Gaid Salah in Algiers, Algeria December 25, 2019. Ramzi Boudina, Reuters

Algeria on Wednesday buried army chief Ahmed Gaid Salah, who had been the country's de facto strongman in recent months and guardian of the ruling system challenged by a massive protest movement.

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After a funeral worthy of a head of state, the veteran general was interred in Martyrs' Square in Al-Alia cemetery, where former presidents and other major Algerian figures are laid to rest.

The wooden coffin containing the body of Gaid Salah, who died of a heart attack on Monday aged 79, was displayed for four hours in the People's Palace in the centre of the capital Algiers before being carried in a procession to his final resting place.

Thousands gathered at the gates of the palace, along the procession's route and at the cemetery to pay their respects to the man who had been army chief for a record 15 years – but also a face of the political system the months-old protest movement has been railing against.

Gaid Salah became the country's de facto leader behind the scenes after longtime president Abdelaziz Bouteflika was forced to step down in the face of huge street protests in April.

But the crowds saluting the departure of the funeral procession paid tribute to Gaid Salah, with calls of "Allahu akbar" (God is Greatest) and ululations.

The convoy was led by officers in ceremonial uniforms on the back of a lorry, flanked by police motorcycle outriders.

The coffin was transported on a gun carriage pulled by an armoured personnel carrier along the roughly 10-kilometre (6-mile) route to the cemetery, where Gaid Salah was buried in the afternoon. 

Thousands pay tribute

Senior state officials paid tribute to the deceased at the palace, built in the 18th century for Ottoman governors and now used for state ceremonies.

Carried by several officers, the coffin was met by interim military chief of staff Said Chengriha, accompanied by other military officials.

President Abdelmadjid Tebboune arrived a little after the procession and paid his respects at the coffin before offering condolences to relatives of the deceased.

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.

After his win, Tebboune awarded Gaid Salah the top honour in the National Order of Merit, usually reserved for heads of state. After the general's death he announced three days of national mourning. 

Abdelkader Bensalah, interim president after Bouteflika's fall, and other senior personalities also gathered in front of the coffin.

Images broadcast by several TV stations showed a crowd massed at the gates of the palace as well as small groups of civilians entering the palace complex and briefly stopping in front of the coffin to pay their respects.

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

Gaid Salah has been lambasted by the protest movement, particularly in the lead-up to the December 12 presidential election rejected by the movement demanding deep-rooted political reforms before any poll.

The crowd gathered at the palace in the morning chanted a modified version of a protest slogan that called Gaid Salah a traitor, instead saying, "Army and people are brothers and Gaid Salah is a martyr."

 

(AFP)

 

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