French colonization of Algeria "brutal": Hollande

Thu Dec 20, 2012 7:50am EST
 

By Julien Ponthus and John Irish

ALGIERS/PARIS (Reuters) - President Francois Hollande acknowledged on Thursday that France's colonization of Algeria had been "brutal and unfair" but stopped short of making an apology to the oil-rich North African state which Paris sees as a major trading partner.

With France's own economy spluttering, Hollande had hoped his visit would not only strengthen trade ties but improve security cooperation, as Paris pushes for intervention against Islamists who have seized control of northern Mali.

Algeria, which has 12 billion barrels of oil reserves, is geographically the world's largest Francophone nation, yet annual trade with its one-time colonial master is just 10 billion euros.

Hollande's comments on the 1954-1962 Algerian war, which ended in Algerian independence and France's withdrawal, are likely to be carefully analyzed for signs they could help remove lingering resentment about the conflict in both countries, a legacy that has held back a trading partnership which Paris hopes could revive the Mediterranean basin's economic fortunes.

"For 132 years, Algeria was subjected to a brutal and unfair system: colonization. I acknowledge the suffering it caused," Hollande told the Algerian parliament on the second day of his visit.

Seeking to strike a more conciliatory stance than his conservative predecessor Nicolas Sarkozy whom Algerians viewed as overly hostile towards their country because of what they regarded as his tough immigration policies, Hollande tried to take a nuanced approach.

"We respect the act of memory, of all the memories. There is a duty of truth on the violence, the injustices, the massacres and the torture," he said.

But the 58-year-old Hollande had limited room for maneuver.   Continued...

 
France's President Francois Hollande gives a speech at the Palais des Nations in Algiers on the second day of a two-day official visit, December 20, 2012. REUTERS/Louafi Larbi