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France recognises ‘brutal’ colonial past in Algeria

French President François Hollande held out an olive branch to Algeria on Thursday by recognising the “suffering” France had inflicted on its former colony. He did not issue the apology that many Algerians have demanded.

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French President Francois Hollande on Thursday said he recognised that the “suffering” inflicted on the Algerian people during French colonial rule was “brutal and unfair” – but stopped short of issuing an apology.

Speaking to Algerian lawmakers on the second day of a landmark visit to the former French territory, Hollande said: “For 132 years, what Algeria was subjected to was profoundly brutal and unfair. That system had a name: colonialism. And I recognise here the suffering that colonialism inflicted on the Algerian people.”

Many in Algeria had called on Hollande to issue an apology for French rule and for the brutality of France’s reaction to the 1954-1962 war for independence, which left between 400,000 and 1,500,000 people dead, although there are no official figures.

A look back at the French Algerian war

The war has left deep scars on both sides of the Mediterranean, and before Hollande’s much awaited visit, several prominent Algerian politicians had denounced the refusal of the French authorities “to recognise, apologise for and compensate” the crimes committed during 132 years of French colonial rule.

"There is a duty of truth on the violence, the injustices, the massacres and the torture," Hollande said of the Algerian war, while calling for the official archives to be opened to historians so that the “truth can come out progressively.”

The speech came a day after Hollande arrived in the former French colony, to be greeted by thousands of cheering Algerians.

Upon his arrival in Algiers, Hollande called for a partnership “of equals” between the two countries, but insisted he had “not come to offer repentance or apologies. I have come to say what is true.”

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