Tens of thousands gathered in an Algerian village Friday for the burial of Hocine Ait-Ahmed, one of the fathers of the country’s struggle for independence and a key opposition figure.
Ait-Ahmed died last week in Switzerland aged 89. His remains arrived Thursday in Algiers for a state funeral before being transferred to his home village, which bears his name.
Ait-Ahmed was the last of the nine so-called “sons of Toussaint” who launched an uprising against French rule on November 1, 1954.
Draped in Algeria’s national flag, his coffin was carried in an ambulance through the village as tens of thousands filled the streets.
“Today and tomorrow Hocine lives!,” they chanted, and “Algeria, free and democratic!”
“We are here to say that Ait-Ahmed’s battle for democracy and freedom will not have been in vain,” said one of the mourners, lawyer Mokrane Ait-Larbi.
Many in the crowd surged forward to try to touch the coffin as it was brought out of the ambulance before the burial.
Ait-Ahmed was layed to rest in the town cemetery alongside several of his ancestors, including Cheikh Mohand Oulhoucine, a poet and Islamic figure who founded the village, died in 1901 and is still revered by the community.
Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal was among senior officials attending the funeral.
Media reports said Ait-Ahmed had rejected an offer for a burial place at the El Alia national cemetery in Algiers, where state leaders and fellow independence figures are buried.
His funeral cortege had departed from the Algiers headquarters of Ait-Ahmed’s Socialist Forces Front (FFS) and travelled 160 kilometres (100 miles) southeast to his village.
On Thursday the government organised a state funeral for Ait-Ahmed in Algiers, which was broadcast live on state television, and later a wake was held at his party’s headquarters.
President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, also a veteran of the struggle for independence from France, declared eight days of mourning following his death.
Ait-Ahmed, who was jailed by the French in 1956, was freed after a ceasefire in 1962. He went into opposition when Ahmed Ben Bella became president the following year.
He was arrested in 1964 and condemned to death but later freed, and left for exile in Lausanne in 1966.
He returned to Algeria in 1989 after the FFS was legalised and stood as a candidate in presidential elections in 1999, but pulled out mid-campaign arguing that the vote was rigged in favour of Bouteflika.
Ait-Ahmed’s health began to fail in 2012 and he resigned the following year as head of the FFS. He died in Lausanne on December 23.
French President Francois Hollande hailed Ait-Ahmed after his death as “one of the great historical figures (of Algeria), a leading architect of its independence and a committed political actor.”