By Aomar Ouali, AP
ALGIERS, Algeria–Tens of thousands of Algerians massed in a mountain village for a chaotic burial ceremony Friday of a national hero of the brutal independence war with France.
Hocine Ait Ahmed, who spent nearly a quarter-century in exile in Europe, was buried in the village where he was born, a day after his remains arrived in Algiers, the Algerian capital. Ait Ahmed, 89, who was the country’s leading opposition figure, died Wednesday in Lausanne, Switzerland.
Ait Ahmed had requested a burial in his native village, Ath Ahmedh, next to his mother’s grave, 110 kilometers (nearly 70 miles) east of Algiers in the heart of the Kabyle region that is home to Algeria’s proud-spirited Berber population.
The ceremony transformed into a scene of chaos as crowds flooded the winding mountain roads to view the flag-draped coffin.
“Algeria free and democratic,” shouted the crowd, taking up a slogan of the party he founded decades ago, the Front of Socialist Forces, which remains an active opposition voice.
Ait Ahmed had been the last of nine heroes of the independence war to die. But he spoke out against the political system controlled since independence from France in 1962 by the military, overtly in the past, behind the scenes today.
President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s government welcomed Ait Ahmed’s remains with fanfare at the Algiers airport. However, the family refused to allow a burial in the capital alongside the other heroes of the independence war. And the chaotic conditions at the burial site forced top officials planning to attend to turn back.