x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Hollande acknowledges 'brutal' and 'unjust' rule of French in Algeria

French president acknowledges 'unjust' and 'brutal' nature of France's 132-year occupation of Algeria but stops short of apology.

ALGIERS // The French president, Francois Hollande, yesterday acknowledged the "unjust" and "brutal" nature of France's 132-year occupation of Algeria.

But he stopped short of apologising, as many Algerians had demanded.

On the second day of his state visit to north-African country, he told the two houses of parliament that "I recognise the suffering the colonial system has inflicted" on the Algerian people.

He specifically recognised the "massacres" by the French during the seven-year war that led to Algerian independence in 1962.

The admission was a profound departure from his predecessors who, if not defending France's tormented past with Algeria, remained resolutely silent on the matter.

Mr Hollande's visit came as Algeria celebrates 50 years of independence from France, during which relations between the two countries ties have been fraught with tension.

Mr Hollande said at the start of his visit that he and Abdelaziz Bouteflika, the Algerian president, were beginning a "new era", with a strategic partnership among equals.

Large numbers of Algerians and some political parties have been demanding an apology from France for discrimination suffered by the population under colonial rule and for brutality during the war.

However, Mr Hollande said on Wednesday that he would make no apologies.

"History, even when it is tragic, even when it is painful for our two countries, must be told," Mr Hollande told legislators yesterday. "For 132 years, Algeria was subjected to a profoundly unjust and brutal system" of colonisation, he said.

"I recognise here the suffering that colonisation has inflicted on the Algerian people," he added.

He notably listed the sites of three massacres, including one at Setif where, seven years ago, Mr Bouteflika compared French methods to those used by Nazi Germany and asked France to make a "gesture ... to erase this black stain".

The violence in Setif began on May 8, 1945, apparently during a celebration of the end of the Second World War.

Demonstrators unfurled Algerian flags, which were banned by the French. As police began confiscating the flags, the crowds turned on the French, killing about two dozen.

The uprising spread and the response by colonial troops grew increasingly harsh during the weeks that followed, including the bombardments of villages by a French war ship.

Algerians say about 45,000 people may have died. Figures in France put the number of Algerian dead at between 15,000 and 20,000.

Mr Hollande and Mr Bouteflika agreed to relaunch economic, strategic and cultural relations between the two countries on a new basis among equals. A new start must "be supported by a base", Mr Hollande said, and "this base is truth".

"Nothing is built in secretiveness, forgetting, denial," he added.