Algeria, September 18 (BNA): Former Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika died at the age of 84, Algerian state television reported Friday evening.
Bouteflika, the longest-serving president of Africa’s largest country, was forced to step down in 2019 after months of mass street protests against his 20-year rule, German news agency dpa said.
Bouteflika has rarely been seen in public since he suffered a stroke in 2013. Even German Chancellor Angela Merkel had to cancel a 2017 visit at the last minute because Bouteflika’s health did not allow it.
He survived large-scale protests in the Arab world in 2011, initially avoiding being ousted like his peers in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya.
Western leaders have long viewed him as a reliable partner in the fight against terrorism.
Bouteflika has ruled the country for four consecutive terms since 1999, but when he announced he would run for a fifth term in spring 2019, anger erupted in Algeria.
The move sparked mass protests, with millions of participants and demonstrators demanding his departure from the government.
The army eventually withdrew its support and Bouteflika was forced to resign a few days before the end of his fourth term.
Bouteflika came to power in 1999 during the final years of the war between the state and Islamist factions.
The decade-long civil war began after the army intervened to prevent an Islamist party from winning the country’s first multi-party elections in 1992. It is estimated that at least 150,000 people were killed.
Bouteflika negotiated a peace agreement that led to a significant reduction in violence.
His longevity is often attributed to the fact that Algerians are still traumatized by brutal war and refuse to rock the boat, despite widespread disillusionment with the stagnant economy and the corrupt and authoritarian ways of his regime.
The young politician was one of the last generation of Algerian leaders from the 1954-1962 war of independence from France.
Born on March 1, 1937 in Morocco to Algerian parents, Bouteflika was a high school dropout.
At the age of nineteen, he joined the National Liberation Front, which was fighting in the west of the country under the subsequent president Houari Boumediene.
He became the country’s youngest minister when it gained independence, and won the sports portfolio at the age of 25.
After being praised for his diplomatic and oratorical skills, he quickly moved on to the position of Secretary of State, a position he held for 16 years.
Bouteflika loyalists have praised him for maintaining the country’s stability amid regional turmoil.
The opposition criticized him for staying in power for so long, saying that he was so physically helpless in his last years of life that his entourage ran the country.
At the end of his political career, he stood at the head of a state rich in oil and gas that did not allow its people to benefit from its wealth.
High unemployment and a lack of prospects for educated young people have led to frequent protests.
He was also accused domestically of failing to break away from the influence of powerful military leaders.
He had many foreign policy successes, such as brokering a peace agreement for Mali, settling the border war between Ethiopia and Eritrea, and establishing closer relations with Germany and the United States.
He signed a declaration of friendship and cooperation with then-French President Francois Hollande in 2012 during a visit that saw Hollande acknowledge the brutality of French colonial rule in the country.
Health problems that plagued Bouteflika for years. In 2005, he spent several weeks in Paris receiving treatment for what was presented as a stomach ulcer. There has been speculation that he may have stomach cancer, but this has never been confirmed.
He had his first stroke in 2013, and has never fully recovered.