Chirac meets Bouteflika in Algeria day trip

15th April 2004, Comments 0 comments

Chirac meets Bouteflika in Algeria day trip

Chirac meets Bouteflika in Algeria day trip

ALGIERS, April 15 (AFP) - French President Jacques Chirac was in Algiers on Thursday to congratulate Abdelaziz Bouteflika just a week after the Algerian president won re-election in a landslide.

Bouteflika greeted Chirac at the airport, where the French leader reviewed an honour guard and the two countries' national anthems were performed.

The two presidents then headed for a working lunch at a state residence about 30 kilometers (18 miles) west of Algiers.

The Algerian media expressed surprise at the visit by Chirac, who was to return home later in the day, with some newspapers questioning his motives.

El Watan saw the visit so soon after Bouteflika's re-election victory as an endorsement of the polls - bitterly disputed by top challenger Ali Benflis - while Le Quotidien d'Oran believed the "rush" to be seen in Algiers betrayed France's wish to counter "the growing influence of the Americans".

In France, the opposition Socialist Party cocked an eyebrow at Chirac's sudden dash to Algiers, announced only Monday.

"It's a little surprising, it being so quick," the party's spokeswoman, Annick Lepetit, told reporters.

She also underlined suspicions surrounding Bouteflika's 85 percent score in last Thursday's vote, saying: "It makes you start asking questions."

Chirac last week was among the first to send a message of congratulations to Bouteflika, promising France's support for future economic and social reforms.

"It has fallen to us to pursue together the construction of a great partnership, one which reflects the hope of our two peoples and which can surmount the common challenges with which our countries are confronted in an increasingly uncertain world," the message said.

France ruled Algeria for 132 years before granting it independence in 1962 following a guerrilla war lasting nearly eight years that claimed an estimated 100,000 French and one million Algerian lives.

The two countries now maintain close relations, and a significant number of France's estimated five million Muslim population come from Algeria.

Chirac's last trip to Algeria was a state visit in March 2003 when he was greeted by enthusiastic crowds.

During a previous visit in December 2001, Chirac visited Algiers' working-class district of Bab el Oued, which had been devastated the previous month by floods that claimed 800 lives.

As well as bilateral matters, the two heads of state were also to discuss regional and international issues on Thursday, along with "common subjects of concern," Chirac's office said.

Chirac's spokeswoman, Catherine Colonna, said Wednesday: "This trip shows the new path of Franco-Algerian relations since 2003, relations that both countries want to be close, trusting and smooth."

She said both states wanted to "turn towards the future without forgetting the past," adding: "There is no doubt that a new chapter in Franco-Algerian relations started last year."

The two leaders are to review progress in implentation of the Algiers Declaration they signed last year to boost political, economic, cultural and scientific cooperation.

The document also made it easier for citizens from one country to travel or work in the other.

© AFP                                                   

                                                         Subject: French news


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