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Algerians continue protests despite national mourning for Gaid Salah

Protesters refrained from holding signs directly addressing the late army chief during Tuesday's demonstration
Protester in Algiers holds sign calling for a transition from a "military state to a civilian system" (AFP)

Algerians continued their weekly protests on Tuesday in the city of Algiers despite calls for a day mourning for the country's former army chief who protesters viewed as guardian to the system they hoped to dismantle. 

Army chief of staff Ahmed Gaid Salah died from a heart attack on Monday at the age of 79, according to local state media. 

Following Salah's death, newly elected president and the military's preferred candidate, Abdelmajid Tebboune called for three days of mourning. 

But students and other protesters continued their weekly Tuesday demonstrations, as they have done every week since anti-government protest began since February 2019. 

Protesters however refrained from holding slogans or placards directly targeting Gaid Salah during Tuesday's protests.

"We are not against one person, but against a system," Kahina, a 22-year-old student told AFP. 

"We agreed that there would be no anti-Gaid slogans or signs out of respect for the dead." 

Gaid Salah was seen as Algeria's de facto strongman following the April resignation of longtime president Abdelaziz Bouteflika in the face of mass demonstrations sparked by his bid for a fifth term.

The army chief's funeral will be held on Wednesday, the presidency said, adding that his body would be interred at the Al-Alia cemetary in western Algiers, the final resting place of other presidents and senior Algerian figures.

Previous protests had slammed Gaid Salah, particularly in the lead-up to a December 12 presidential election rejected by protesters who demanded deep-rooted political reforms before any poll.

Gaid Salah was instrumental in pushing for the vote that elected former Prime Minister Tebboune.

Some onlookers considered it "shameful" to protest despite the mourning period.

"It goes against our values, we must respect mourning," said Amine, 27, who added that he had taken part in most of the major weekly Friday demonstrations held since February 22. 

But many students protesting told AFP that the death of Gaid Salah changed nothing for the movement. 

Demonstrations have continued since the election of Tabboune, with protesters rejecting his invitation for dialogue and his vow to appoint young ministers and push for a new constitution.

Rumours had circulated ahead of Tuesday's march that the student protest would be cancelled, and fewer people appeared to have turned out for the rally. 

The police presence was lighter as well, with the march progressing peacefully before it was dispersed by security forces in the early afternoon.