Protesters filled the streets of Algeria’s capital Tuesday, defying calls for a day of mourning for the deceased army chief seen as the guardian of the system they want dismantled.
Powerful military chief of staff Ahmed Gaid Salah died of a heart attack at age 79 on Monday, and newly-sworn in president Abdelmadjid Tebboune called for three days of mourning.
Nonetheless, students and other protesters held their regular Tuesday demonstration as they have every week since February, when protests broke out in the North African country against the political system in place since Algeria’s 1962 independence from France.
Gaid Salah was seen as Algeria’s de facto strongman following the April resignation of longtime president Abdelaziz Bouteflika in the face of mass demonstrations sparked by his bid for a fifth term.
The army chief’s funeral will be held on Wednesday, the presidency said, adding that his body would be interred at the Al-Alia cemetary in western Algiers, the final resting place of other presidents and senior Algerian figures.
Previous protests had slammed Gaid Salah, particularly in the lead-up to a December 12 presidential election rejected by protesters who demanded deep-rooted political reforms before any poll.
Gaid Salah was instrumental in pushing for the vote that elected establishment insider Tebboune.
On Monday, however, there were no slogans or placards directly targeting Gaid Salah.
“We are not against one person, but against a system,” said biology student Kahina, 22.
“We agreed that there would be no anti-Gaid slogans or signs out of respect for the dead.”
Some onlookers considered it “shameful” to protest despite the mourning period.
“It goes against our values, we must respect mourning,” said Amine, 27, who added that he has taken part in most of the major weekly Friday demonstrations held since February 22.
But many students protesting told AFP that the death of Gaid Salah changed nothing for the movement.
Demonstrations have continued since the election of Tabboune, with protesters rejecting his invitation for dialogue and his vow to appoint young ministers and push for a new constitution.
Rumours had circulated ahead of the Tuesday march that the student protest would be cancelled, and fewer people appeared to have turned out for the rally.
The police presence was lighter as well, with the march progressing peacefully before it was dispersed by security forces in the early afternoon.
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