Former Algerian President Bouteflika receives national funeral
This content was published on September 19, 2021 – 17:22
By Hamid Ould Ahmed
ALGIERS (Reuters) – Former Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, ousted in 2019 after mass protests, attended a state funeral on Sunday attended by senior officials, but received little attention on such occasions in the past .
Bouteflika died on Friday at the age of 84. An armored vehicle adorned with flowers pulled its coffin, covered with the national flag, on a gun carriage from its home in Zeralda, west of the capital, to the el-Alia cemetery in Algiers where five of the his predecessors are buried.
Bouteflika was first elected in 1999 and is widely credited with a policy of national reconciliation that restored peace after a war with armed Islamists in the 1990s killed around 200,000 people.
But many Algerians blame him for the economic stagnation of his last years in power, where he was rarely seen in public after suffering a stroke, and widespread corruption led to the looting of tens of billions of dollars from a state that highly dependent on its large reserves of gas and oil.
He resigned in April 2019 after mass protests to reject his plans to run for a fifth term and demand political and economic reforms.
In addition to Bouteflika’s family, President Abdelmadjid Tebboune, who laid a wreath on the grave, and many ministers of the current government and military officers, including the army chief of staff, Lieutenant- General Saïd Chenegriha, were among those in mourning.
Among the participants were also foreign diplomats in Algiers.
The French presidency on Sunday described Bouteflika as “a major figure in the contemporary history of Algeria”, adding that he embodied Algeria’s foreign policy.
“The President of the Republic sends his condolences to the Algerian people and remains determined to develop close relations of esteem and friendship between the French people and the Algerian people,” the French presidency said in a statement.
But state media paid little attention to the funeral, and state television did not broadcast live footage of the burial ceremony, as it broadcast the funerals of former presidents. He then showed recorded footage.
Until 2014, Bouteflika was able to use export earnings from high energy prices to repay external debt and keep subsidy spending at high levels to avoid social unrest.
“The years of Bouteflika’s reign were a good period. He accomplished great projects, rid the country of foreign debt and brought peace,” said teacher Mohamed Hachi.
But his stroke and falling energy prices ushered in a more difficult period.
“Bouteflika’s period witnessed a terrible spread of corruption that the public could only see after being ousted from power,” said Djamel Harchi, an employee of the state bank.
Several former senior officials, including prime ministers, ministers and army generals, have been jailed for corruption since Bouteflika’s resignation in April 2019 under pressure from a protest movement known as Hirak.
Thousands of members of the leaderless movement continued to take to the streets every week until authorities banned gatherings due to the coronavirus pandemic in March 2020.
Bouteflika was a fighter in the 1954-1962 war that ended French colonial rule.
He became the Algerian Prime Minister of Foreign Affairs and one of the forces behind the Non-Aligned Movement, which has given a global voice to many countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America.
(Report by Hamid Ould Ahmed, additional report by Gus Trompiz in Paris; Editing by Kevin Liffey and David Clarke)