By Hamid OuldAhmed
ALGIERS – Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika on Thursday renewed his call for France to officially apologise to Algerians for its “barbarian massacres” if Paris wanted to improve ties with its former colony.
were the latest in a war of words that broke out last month when the Algerian leader said France’s 132-year colonial-rule amounted to a “genocide of Algerian identity”.
France is trying to retain influence in Africa’s second largest country, where the United States is bolstering oil and trade ties.
“It is today our duty towards the Algerian people and the martyrs to demand official apology from a nation whose motto of revolution was freedom, equality, fraternity,” Bouteflika said in a speech read out on his behalf by Minister for Veterans Affairs Mohamed Cherif Abbas.
Bouteflika earlier urged Paris to acknowledge a role in the massacres of 45,000 Algerians who took to the streets to demand independence from France as Europe celebrated victory over Nazi Germany in 1945.
The later 1954-1962 Algerian war of independence cost the lives of 1.5 million Algerians, according to the Algiers government. Many French also perished.
“The massacres of May 8, 1945, were of a barbarity and a cruelty never equalled in both old and modern Algerian history. They were a savagery that no one could not disavow,” he added in Thursday’s address.
The speech in the western town of Mostaganem was to mark the National Student Day and pay tribute to students who left schools in 1956 and took up arms during the war of independence.
On April 27, French Minister for Europe Catherine Colonna called for an end to an “unhelpful” war of words between the two nations, saying relations should be built on trust.
Last month the two countries bickered over the protocol of a mid-April health check Bouteflika had in the French capital.
French right-wingers complained France should not have permitted Bouteflika to visit Paris, because just days earlier in a speech in the eastern town of Constantine he said French colonialism amounted to a genocide of Algerian identity.
Those comments came a few days after a visit to Algiers by French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy to negotiate a friendship treaty aimed at improving ties.
They were due to sign the accord, similar to the 1963 Franco-German reconciliation treaty, at the end of last year to set aside tensions born out of 132 years of French occupation.
But France’s National Assembly approved in February 2005 a law referring to the “positive role of the French presence overseas, especially in North Africa”, a move seen by Algiers as a hurdle on the way to normalisation.
French President Jacques Chirac repealed the law but that step did not defuse the row. — Reuter