France's Hollande says not in Algeria to 'apologise'
French President Francois Hollande said on a landmark visit to Algeria Wednesday that he had not come to offer "apologies" for crimes committed during the colonial period, as some had demanded.
But he also said his trip marked a "new age" in Franco-Algerian relations, and called for a "strategic partnership between equals."
"I have not come here... to offer repentance or apologies. I have come to say what is true," Hollande told a news conference in Algiers on the first day of a two-day visit to the former French colony.
"There is a truth to be spoken about the past and there is also a willingness to face the future. And this trip, it is focused on the future, to try and mobilise our two societies," the French president said.
Responding to a question about Algerian demands for French repentance, Hollande said it was important to recognise the truth about France's colonial past and the tragedies that occurred during the 1954-62 war of independence.
There must be a "willingness not to let the past block us but on the contrary to work for the future. Once it has been recognised, the past must allow us to go much faster and much further in confronting the future."
"That is what I will tell Algeria's parliamentarians tomorrow," he added, referring to a speech that he is due to give on Thursday morning.
Prior to Hollande's visit, 10 political parties, including four Islamist groupings, denounced the refusal of the French authorities "to recognise, apologise for and compensate" for crimes committed during 132 years of French colonial rule.
The French president described his visit as "necessary," saying it came at a "symbolic time," and that he hoped it would lead to the two countries working more closely together.
"This visit was necessary... It is the time for a new age that I want to begin between France and Algeria, 50 years" after independence.
"We are capable of casting a lucid eye on the past, acknowledging all that we have accomplished together, and then opening a new page and working with the desire to go faster and further," Hollande said, adding: "I think that is what is required."
He said a declaration of friendship and cooperation would be signed, followed by another document that would detail a five-year programme of work in the economic, financial, cultural, agricultural and defence sectors.
Hollande also said that a law to compensate victims of its nuclear testing in the Algerian Sahara and French Polynesia would be "fully" applied.
Some 150,000 people, both military and civilian, are estimated to have taken part in the 210 tests carried out between 1960 and 1996.
The socialist president, who is accompanied by a 200-strong delegation, is visiting the oil-rich north African country after a period of lukewarm ties under his rightwing predecessor Nicolas Sarkozy, and with the French economy struggling.
President Abdelaziz Bouteflika received Hollande with full honours when he arrived on Wednesday, and Hollande later said he had officially invited his Algerian counterpart to pay a state visit to France.
More than half a million Algerians live in France, and hundreds of thousands of others hold French nationality, but many are also frustrated at not being able to obtain visas and seek a better life in Europe.
© 2012 AFP