Former Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika has died at 84, the country’s presidency said on Friday, more than two years after he stepped down under pressure from mass protests and the army.
Bouteflika, a veteran of Algeria’s war for independence, had governed the North African country for two decades before his resignation in April 2019 after street demonstrations rejecting his plan to seek a fifth term.
The longest-serving Algerian leader had rarely been seen in public before his departure since a stroke in 2013.
After Bouteflika’s resignation, in a bid to end the protests demanding political and economic reforms, authorities launched unprecedented investigations into corruption, leading to the imprisonment of several senior officials, including Bouteflika’s powerful brother and adviser, Said.
Bouteflika is considered a national hero by his supporters, having fought on the battlefield during Algeria’s war for independence from France.
After Algeria’s independence from France in 1962, former President Bouteflika became Algeria’s first foreign minister and an influential figure in the Non-Aligned Movement.
As a president of the UN General Assembly, Bouteflika invited former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to address the body in 1974, a historic step towards international recognition of the Palestinian cause.
He also demanded that China be given a seat at the United Nations, and railed against apartheid rule in South Africa.
In the early 1980s, he was accused of corruption and went into a self-imposed exile after the death of ex-President Houari Boumediene. He settled in Dubai, where he became an adviser to a member of the emirate’s ruling family. Charges of corruption against him were later dropped.
He returned home in the 1990s when Algeria was being ravaged with a war between the army and armed fighters that killed at least 200,000 people, winning an election with the backing of the military.
Elected president in 1999, he managed to negotiate a truce with the Islamists and launched a national reconciliation process allowing the country to restore peace.
During his first years in office, he led the country into an economic boom, sparking development nationwide.
He also managed to hold the country together during the Arab Spring.
When protests erupted beginning in 2011, his government responded by creating thousands of small businesses. But despite the initiative riots continued.
When he won a mandate for a second term in 2004, he changed the constitution to run for a third term. And despite deteriorating health, he changed the constitution once again to secure a fourth term.
Western leaders considered Bouteflika an ally in fighting armed groups in North Africa, and his government fought al-Qaeda and other related groups.
Bouteflika was blamed for costing civilian lives when he ordered the military in 2017 to storm a gas plant in the Algerian desert in order to rescue hundreds of hostages held by a group affiliated with al-Qaeda.
Bouteflika’s grip on power started to slip when he announced his bid for a fifth term in February 2019, sparking huge demonstrations not seen since the protests for independence in 1962.
For weeks, the protests demanded that Bouteflika and his allies resign.
Bouteflika tried to appease protesters by reversing his decision to seek another term and postponing the elections, saying he would stay on until a new constitution was adopted. But it was not enough to stop the revolt.
The protests continued and the military stepped in, ending Bouteflika’s government.