The Algerian longest-serving president, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, has died after a long illness at the age of 84, barely two years after been forced to step down by the country’s military.
Bouteflika led the country for almost two decades before stepping down in 2019 after his bid for a fifth term in office led to massive street protests.
The former president, who died on Saturday, played a key role in Algeria’s war of independence from France in the 1950s and 60s. And after the civil war in 1999 that claimed almost 200,000 people, Bouteflika became president following support from the country’s military.
After rarely been seen in public since a stroke in 2013, affecting his speech and mobility, Bouteflika’s political career began early: After Algeria’s independence from France in 1962, he became the world’s youngest minister of foreign affairs in his mid-twenties, a record that still stands.
He would hold the job for 16 years and was an active member of the UN. As president of the general assembly in 1974, he invited Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to address the UN governing body – an unprecedented and ground-breaking move.
He also insisted China should have a United Nations (UN) seat and stood against apartheid in South Africa. He is credited with giving young Nelson Mandela his first military training.
Bouteflika passed part of the 1980s in exile, avoiding corruption charges that were ultimately dropped after several months of investigations.
He returned home in the 1990s and took office in 1999 as the country’s first civilian leader in more than three decades and the man popularly called “Boutef” managed to broker peace between the army and armed Islamist militants who were fighting the country’s civil war.
In 2008, he initiated a change in Algeria’s constitution which removed the two-term limit for presidents – and was duly re-elected twice, despite circling fraud charges.
When the 2011 Arab Spring protests broke out across North Africa, Bouteflika swiftly increased public subsidies and ended Algeria’s long-standing state of emergency.
His final public appearance was in 2017, four years after his stroke, when he inaugurated a metro station and the newly renovated Ketchaoua mosque in Algiers. By this time, his younger brother Said Bouteflika was widely viewed as the country’s real ruler behind the scenes.
When it was announced that the ailing president would run for a fifth term in 2019, protests spread across the country.