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Algeria pays tribute to ex-president Bendjedid

FILE - This 2009 file photo shows former Algerian President Chadli Bendjedid who died Saturday, Oct. 6, 2012 at a military hospital in Algiers. He was 83. Bendjedid gave Algeria a multiparty political system before he was overthrown in a 1992 military coup. (AP Photo/Sidali Djarboub, File)

ALGIERS: Algeria on Sunday paid tribute to former president Chadli Bendjedid, "father" of the country's multiparty system, who died of cancer 20 years after leaving office.

"Algeria has lost a mujahedeen (fighter) who was determined to rid the country of the ravages of colonialism and liberate his people from its injustices and recover the sovereignty of Algeria," President Abdelaziz Bouteflika said.

Algeria has declared eight days of mourning for Bendjedid, 83, president from 1979 to 1992, who died on Saturday.

His body was being kept at the People's Palace, an official residence in Algiers, to allow officials and members of the public to pay tribute to the former head of state before Monday's funeral.

A portrait of the former president was placed in the centre of a large hall of the former residence of Ottoman-era governors of Algiers.

Bendjedid's funeral is to held at the Martyrs' Square of El Alia cemetery in the capital where his predecessors Houari Boumedienne, Ahmed Ben Bella and Mohamed Boudiaf are buried.

The Algerian media have hailed the role of Bendjedid in introducing multiparty politics to Algeria, where the single-party rule of the National Liberation Front was ended in 1989.

"Algeria says goodbye to the man of reform," wrote Arabic daily El-Khabar, while the French newspaper L'Expression praised him as the "the pioneer of reform."

Bendjedid was one of Algeria's longest-serving presidents, holding office for 13 years until to 1992, when he was ousted from power as the army intervened to block Islamists from winning Algeria's first multiparty elections.

The military intervention sparked a civil war which left an estimated 200,000 people dead.

"Everyone thought Chadli was ousted by the military. I met him two months after his resignation, he told me that he had resigned on his own," Miloud Brahimi, a prominent human rights lawyer, said Sunday on the radio.

Bendjedid joined the underground for the duration of the war of liberation against colonial power France between November 1954 and 1962, when he was named military commander of the Oran region of western Algeria for 14 years.

He became a member of the Revolutionary Council, set up in June 1965 after the overthrow of the country's first president Ben Bella.

With the army's backing, he was elected president in January 1979 and his mandate was renewed in December 1988, two months after bloody unrest over price rises and demands for democracy.

Bendjedid kick-started the democratisation of government institutions in Algeria, notably by promulgating a pluralist constitution in February 1989.

But after the outbreak of civil war, he was placed under house arrest in Oran in January 1992 and not released until after Bouteflika rose to the presidency in 1999.

His memoirs are due to be published on November 1, the anniversary of the outbreak in 1954 of Algeria's war of independence.

Bendjedid was born on April 14, 1929 in Bouteldja, a village in eastern Algeria near the Tunisian border.

 

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