Enthusiastic Welcome for Chirac in Algiers

From Associated Press

Hundreds of thousands of Algerians poured into the streets Sunday to welcome Jacques Chirac, the first French president to make a state visit to this former French colony since its independence four decades ago.

Chirac's long-awaited three-day trip was intended to support the North African nation's efforts to end a bloody Islamic insurgency. It also sought to heal old wounds from the war that won the country independence in 1962 -- a war in which Chirac himself fought.

In Algiers, well-wishers held posters with Chirac's portrait and others threw confetti from balconies as the French president shook hands with people in the crowd. Entwined French and Algerian flags hung from apartment buildings, and images of Chirac and Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika decorated lampposts.

"More than 40 years have passed" since the war, Chirac said. "The time has come to face the future serenely with the friendship and the confidence we have rediscovered."

Rakkah Amirouche, holding a sign reading, "No War in Iraq," said Chirac has become increasingly popular in Muslim-dominated Algeria because of his stance on the Iraq crisis.

Chirac is a leading proponent of disarming Iraq peacefully, a stance that has strained U.S.-French relations.

Iraq, terrorism and Mideast violence are on the agenda of Chirac's meetings, though the official purpose is improving ties.

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