French president says Algeria suffered under ‘brutal’ colonialism

French President Francois Hollande, left, greets Algerians as he walks in Algiers on Thursday.
(Sidali Djarboub / Associated Press)

French President Francois Hollande said Thursday that Algeria suffered under the “profoundly unjust and brutal system” of colonialism, but he stopped short of apologizing for French rule of the North African state.

“I recognize here the suffering that colonization inflicted on the Algerian people,” Hollande told Algerian lawmakers on the second day of his symbolically charged trip to the former French territory.

As Algeria marks half a century of independence, politicians have pushed for a French apology for its repression during its 132-year rule and the bloody revolution that wrenched the country out of French control. The number killed is disputed; Algerian estimates exceed 1 million.


Upon his election in May, the leftist Hollande promised to confront French colonial history, but an apology is fiercely opposed by French citizens who once fought Algerian insurgents. Last month, a former French defense minister made a vulgar gesture in reaction to a call to recognize colonial abuses, an outburst that was caught on camera and infuriated the Algerian media.

In his Thursday speech, Hollande spoke of three massacre sites and called for colonial archives to be thrown open to historians, according to French news reports.

Hollande made “a good statement” that approaches what had been wished for, Algerian Veterans Minister Mohamed Cherif Abbas told the Algeria Press Service. Two months earlier, the French president also recognized the “bloody repression” of Algerian independence protesters slain by Paris police in 1961, another gesture at mending ties between the nations.

Failing to apologize, however, is unlikely to help Hollande sway his most skeptical critics. This week, one former minister told an Algerian newspaper that the historical wounds were too deep to heal even if Hollande did apologize, saying the French president was not welcome.

“What are the real drives behind it?” former veterans minister Brahim Chibout asked the Ech Chourouk El Youmi newspaper, arguing that France was courting Algeria for its own economic gain.

Hollande and Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika released a joint declaration Wednesday, resolving to start “a new chapter” of cooperation in their relations. The French president also pledged to smooth the visa process for Algerians; Algerian authorities inked a deal with the French car company Renault to build a factory southwest of Oran and launch a joint venture owned partly by Algerian companies, according to a Renault statement.

The move to heal relations also comes as France frets about Islamists seizing control of northern Mali, where a weakened and fractured government has been unable to oust militants. Algeria has been uneasy about plans for outside intervention in Mali, which France has championed on the world stage.


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