Belfast Telegraph

Home News World

Algeria's first president dies

Ahmed Ben Bella, Algeria's first president and a historic leader of its bloody independence struggle from France, has died at his family home in Algiers - aged 95.

Charismatic Ben Bella, a symbol of pan-Arabist ideology as well as the global anti-colonial movement, was president of Algeria from 1963 until he was overthrown in a military coup in 1965 by the army chief of staff, Colonel Houari Boumedienne.

Ben Bella was under house arrest until 1980, and he went into self-exile in Switzerland before returning to the country in 1990 as part of the opposition to the ruling political party he helped to found.

A giant of Algeria's independence struggle and the country's first few years, he played only a symbolic role in the latter years of his life, heading the opposition Movement for the Democracy in Algeria Party, which competed in the aborted 1991 elections, winning just 2% of the vote.

His party was banned in 1997, but he continued to live in Algeria, often condemning government policies. He was present when the current president, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, was sworn in for his third term in April 2009.

Two years earlier, Ben Bella became head of the African Union's "Group of Elders".

Aside from Bouteflika, Ben Bella was the country's sole civilian leader and was followed by a string of generals.

One of the six "historic leaders" of Algeria's revolt against French colonial rule, Ben Bella spent 23 years of his life in French and Algerian prisons.

Through most of the eight-year war of independence, Ben Bella was held in a French fortress. His liberation was one of the main Algerian demands in the drawn-out peace talks that led to the 1962 Evian agreements for Algeria's independence.

Elected president of the newly-independent nation virtually without opposition, he enjoyed less than three years of an extravagant and erratic leadership before being overthrown in an army coup and imprisoned by Boumedienne, then army chief of staff.

Popular

From Belfast Telegraph