French President François Hollande on Wednesday refused to apologise for his country’s traumatic colonial past in Algeria, instead hailing a “new era” in relations that would see an increase in bilateral trade and cooperation.
French President François Hollande on December 19 deflected questions about French repentance for colonial-period crimes as he kicked off an official visit to Algeria, instead hailing a “new era” in relations that would see an increase in bilateral trade and cooperation.
“I have not come here... to offer repentance or apologies. I have come to say what is true,” Hollande told a news conference in Algiers, on the first day of his landmark visit to the former French colony.
HOLLANDE TO ADDRESS ALGIERS PARLIAMENT
Hollande will address Algeria's parliament at 9 am Paris time (8 am GMT) on Thursday in a landmark speech during which he is expected to promote the theme of a shared history between France and Algeria.
“There is a truth to be spoken about the past and there is also a willingness to face the future. And this trip, it is focused on the future, to try and mobilise our two societies,” Hollande told a press conference after meeting Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika.
Algeria fought a bloody, eight-year war to liberate itself from French rule starting in 1954. The war left around 1 million dead, according to some estimates, and deep scars on both sides of the Mediterranean.
“Now 50 years after Algerian independence, Hollande said it was high time to turn the page,” said France 24’s Melissa Bell, who was in the capital of Algiers for the French president’s landmark visit.
“He acknowledged those opinions in France that have prevented previous presidents from going far enough toward a recognition of Algerian suffering,” Bell added.
Prior to Hollande’s visit, several prominent politicians in Algeria denounced the refusal of the French authorities “to recognise, apologise for and compensate” the crimes committed during 132 years of French colonial rule.
Hollande and his entourage –which included first lady Valérie Trierweiler and nine French cabinet ministers– were warmly greeted by Bouteflika and Algerian notables shortly after their plane landed around 1pm local time.
FRANCE 24's Melissa Bell reports from Algiers
An open top motorcade drove Hollande and Bouteflika through Algerian capital’s artery, a wide boulevard decorated with dozens of Algerian and French flags, which was escorted by traditional Algerian musical groups and the equestrian honour guard.
Hollande then continued on foot for part of the parade, shaking hands with some of the thousands of people that came to welcome him.
“Young Algerians don’t expect anything from France,” said Abdelkrim, a 42-year-old computer programmer who came to see the French president, adding that diplomatic ties had moved forward and were on better footing than they were during previous French administrations.
A boost for the French economy
However, improving economic relations was also on the French head of state’s busy two-day trip. Executives from some of France’s top firms were also accompanying Hollande, who was expected to sign dozens of commercial and industrial deals on Wednesday night.
Algeria has 12 billion barrels of oil reserves and is the world's largest French-speaking nation in terms of its surface area. However, annual trade with France is just 10 billion euros and as the North African country diversifies its economy, Chinese and other European businessmen have swept in the developing market.
Hollande was also hoping to improve security cooperation with Algiers as he pushes for intervention against Islamists who have seized control of northern Mali.
The French president is due to address the Algerian parliament on Thursday morning, as he wraps up his visit.
FESTIVE WELCOME FOR HOLLANDE IN ALGIERS
French President François Hollande and Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika were cheered by crowds waiting along the waterfront boulevard of Algiers on December 19, 2012. The city was decorated with French and Algerian flags for the landmark visit.
As a symbolic gesture of welcoming, the French president was handed the keys to Algeria's capital.
The parade started on an open top motorcade, but Hollande later continued on foot and shook hands with some of the ordinary Algerians who came out to see him.
Date created : 2012-12-19