GENEVA, SWITZERLAND – Algeria’s first president, Ahmed Ben Bella, died Wednesday 11 April at the age of 93, in Alger, a few days after the country marked the 50th anniversary of its independence from France.
Ben Bella joined the anticolonialist resistance after serving during the Second World War in the Free French forces in Europe. He later became one of the leading figures in Algeria’s violent struggle to achieve independence. Ben Bella entered politics after being moved by the killing of over 1500 anti-colonialist protesters by French troops in the town of Sétif in 1945.
He presided a one-party state, from 1963 to 1965, before being deposed by the army chief. In later years, he supported democracy and was critical of Islamist forces which gained ground in the 1990s.
Ben Bella’s father had changed his year of birth, allowing him to leave school and return to work on the family farm, the New York Times reports. His official, albeit modified, date of birth was reported in the Algerian press as 25 December 1916, making him 95 at death.