Algeria mourns Ahmed Gaid Salah, the army head who safeguarded a revolution

The army head was credited with keeping the mass demonstrations against the government safe and peaceful but protesters saw him as presiding over a powerful clique that ruled the country

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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.

Lt Gen Ahmed Gaid Salah died of a heart attack on Monday aged 79, having determined the 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.”

epa08087795 (FILE) - Algerian then Deputy Minister for National Defense and Chief of Staff of the Peoples National Army (ANP), Ahmed Gaid Salah attends an event in Algiers, Algeria, 27 June 2012 (reissued 23 December 2019). Reports on 23 December 2019 state Ahmed Gaid Salah has died, aged 79.  EPA/STRINGER *** Local Caption *** 55083340
Algerian then Deputy Minister for National Defence and Chief of Staff of the Peoples National Army, Ahmed Gaid Salah, attends an event in Algiers on June 27, 2012. EPA

As the protests reached their peak in April, Lt Gen 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, Lt Gen 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 Lt Gen Gaid Salah’s resignation.

After Abdelmadjid Tebboune was elected president last week, he brought Lt Gen Gaid Salah on to the stage, embracing him and presenting him with an order of merit.

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

Gen Chengriha, like Lt Gen 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 that won freedom for Algeria.

Lt Gen Gaid Salah’s body was driven through the centre of Algiers and buried in one of the capital’s main graveyards after Wednesday’s noon prayer.