Algeria buries military chief, de facto ruler amid protests


People gather during the funeral Gen. Ahmed Gaid Salah, in Algiers, Algeria, Wednesday, Dec. 25, 2019. Algeria is holding an elaborate military funeral for the general who was the de facto ruler of the gas-rich country amid political turmoil throughout this year. (AP Photo/Toufik Doudou)

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ALGIERS, Algeria (AP) — Algeria held an elaborate military funeral Wednesday for the general who was the gas-rich country’s de facto ruler amid political turmoil throughout this year.

Big crowds packed the route of the funeral cortege Wednesday to pay homage to Gen. Ahmed Gaid Salah, chief of the armed forces. Some people ran alongside flower-draped military vehicles, shouting in grief. Others saluted his coffin, draped in the Algerian flag, or kissed his portrait.

The 79-year-old Gaid Salah died unexpectedly Monday after a heart attack, plunging Algeria into new uncertainty after 10 months of pro-democracy protests.

After a ceremony at the Palace of the People, he was buried at the El Alia cemetery alongside others who fought in Algeria’s war for independence from France. Algeria’s military plays a central role in decision-making in this country, a key ally to Western powers in fighting Islamic extremism.

Gaid Salah leaves behind a mixed legacy.

Some mourned him as a symbol of the fading independence generation and a guarantor of stability amid this year’s protests. Others saw him as epitomizing an opaque leadership out of touch with worries of Algeria’s large youth population.

Gaid Salah helped force out longtime President Abdelaziz Bouteflika in April amid unprecedented, peaceful protests against corruption and Algeria’s secretive power structure.

The military chief then pushed for elections earlier this month, won by a former prime minister considered close to Gaid Salah, Abdelmadjid Tebboune.

Protesters later turned against Gaid Salah, demanding his departure and a wholesale makeover of Algeria’s political structure. Students held their regular weekly protests Tuesday after his death, despite the three days of official mourning declared by Algeria’s leadership.

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