Macron visits Algeria in a bid to reset relations
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French leader Emmanuel Macron made waves when he visited Algeria in February as a presidential candidate and raised his nation’s colonial past. Today he returns for the first time since his victory, and observers expect a very different discourse.
During his last trip to Algeria, Macron called his country’s 132-year colonial rule of Algeria “a crime against humanity,” angering many back in France. Algerians will be waiting to see what tone he strikes today, but observers expect him to be more measured now that he is in office.
“The president had strong words. It was appreciated by Algerians, but today the idea is to turn the page and build a new relationship with Algeria,” a French presidential source said, adding that youth would be Macron’s s key message.
Macron will spend only one day in Algeria and the goal of his trip a “friendship” visit, as opposed to an official trip--is to “reshape” the relationship between the two countries. Algeria’s leader, 80-year-old Abdelaziz Bouteflika, is of a decidedly different generation than the youthful Macron and has remained largely away from the public eye since 2013 after suffering multiple strokes.
Franco-Algerian relations remain uneasy 55 years after the end of the bloody war for independence, but Macron is hoping to turn the page on the grizzly past shared by the two countries. He wants to focus on the younger generation in Algeria and forge new economic and security ties.
Economic ties between the two countries have marginally progressed since 2012 and France is now behind China as the main partner. Annual trade stands at about 8 billion euros compared with 6.36 billion five years ago. More than 400,000 Algerians are given visas for France annually, almost twice as many as in 2012.
Still, Macron won’t entirely ignore the past. He is expected to lay a wreath at the Martyr’s Memorial in Algiers and could make other symbolic gestures, such as returning the skulls of Algerian resistance fighters who were decapitated in the 19th century.
The trip will have a “very strong memorial dimension,” a French presidential official said.
Symbolic gestures aside, Macron will have concrete goals for the trip. France needs Algeria’s help in resolving the crisis in neighbouring Libya and de-escalating Islamist militant violence in the Sahel region, where some 4,000 French troops serve close to the Algerian border.
(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS)