Ex-Algerian president Bouteflika, ousted amid protests, dies

Algeria Obit Bouteflika

ALGIERS, Algeria (AP) — Former Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who fought for independence from France, reconciled his conflict-ravaged nation and was then ousted amid pro-democracy protests in 2019 after two decades in power, has died at age 84, state television announced Friday.

The report on ENTV, citing a statement from the office of current President Abdelmadjid Tebboune, did not provide the cause of death or information about funeral arrangements.

Bouteflika had suffered a stroke in 2013 that badly weakened him. Concerns about his state of health, kept secret from the Algerian public, helped feed public frustration with his 20-year, corruption-tarnished rule. Mass public protests by the Hirak movement led to his departure.

An astute political chameleon, Bouteflika had been known as a wily survivor ever since he fought for independence from colonial ruler France in the 1950s and 1960s.

He stood up to Henry Kissinger as Algeria's long-serving foreign minister, successfully negotiated with the terrorist known as Carlos the Jackal to free oil ministers taken hostage in a 1975 attack on OPEC headquarters, and helped reconcile Algerian citizens with each other after a decade of civil war between radical Muslim militants and Algeria’s security forces.

“I’m a non-conformist politician. I’m a revolutionary,” Bouteflika told The Associated Press on the eve of his first presidential victory in 1999, after a campaign tarnished by fraud charges that drove his six rivals to pull out of the vote.

Upon taking office, Bouteflika promised “to definitively turn the somber pages of our history to work for a new era.”

Born March 2, 1937, to Algerian parents in the border town of Oujda, Morocco, Bouteflika was among Algeria’s most enduring politicians.

In 1956, Bouteflika entered the National Liberation Army, formed to fight Algeria’s bloody independence war. He commanded the southern Mali front and slipped into France clandestinely.

After the war’s end, Bouteflika became foreign minister at just 25, at a time when Algeria was a model of doctrinaire socialism tethered to the Soviet Union. Its capital, Algiers, was nicknamed “Moscow on the Med.”

He kept that post for 16 years, helping to raise Algeria’s influence and define the country as a leader of the Third World and the Non-Aligned Movements. He was active in the United Nations, and presided over the U.N. General Assembly in 1974.

In 1978, slipped from sight for nearly two decades, spending more than six years in exile to escape corruption charges that were later dropped.