Algeria buried its first post-independence president Ahmed Ben Bella, hailed as an anti-colonial hero and the father of the nation, in a sombre and rain-drenched ceremony yesterday. Ben Bella, who died on Wednesday at age 95 following a recent hospital stay for respiratory problems, was laid to rest in the Martyrs’ plot in Algiers’ El Alia cemetery, alongside other independence fighters.
Military officers carried the wooden coffin, which was decorated with flowers, to the beat of drums, after members of the public had paid their final respects to the former leader for 24 hours.
President Abdelaziz Bouteflika attended the ceremony, which followed yesterday prayers, as did Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki, Morocco’s Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane and other regional leaders.
“Algeria is not the only one who has suffered a loss,” said Marzouki on Algerian television.
“The Greater Maghreb has also suffered a loss, and so has the Arab world. He was a symbol of the Third World.”
Morocco’s Benkirane called Ben Bella “a symbol of the fight against colonialism.”
Other North African leaders who paid their final respects included Mauritanian Prime Minister Moulay Oulad Mohamed El Aghdas and Mohamed Abdelaziz, secretary general of the Western Sahara Polisario Front.
Ben Bella, a charismatic hero of Algeria’s struggle for independence from France, was president from 1963 to 1965, when he was overthrown by his defence minister, Houari Boumediene.
His military experience began when he joined a colonial unit of the French army and served in World War II.
He was decorated for shooting down a German plane over the French Mediterranean port of Marseille and for his service in the battle of Monte Cassino in Italy in 1944.
After the war, Ben Bella became a leading member of the Special Organisation, founded to prepare for an anti-colonial uprising.
He was arrested after taking part in a robbery to obtain funds, escaped to Cairo, then was arrested again in 1956. He spent the rest of the war in prison. In all Ben Bella spent 24 years in French and Algerian prisons.
France granted Algeria independence in 1962 — half a century ago — and freed Ben Bella, who became the new nation’s first president a year later.
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