French president recognises 'brutal' rule of Algeria
France's President Francois Hollande said in Algiers on Thursday that he recognised his country's century of "brutal" colonial rule over the Algerian people, as he sought to launch a new era in relations.
"Over 132 years, Algeria was subjected to a profoundly unjust and brutal system," Hollande told the Algerian parliament on the second and final day of a landmark visit to the north African country, to applause from MPs.
"This system has a name: it is colonialism and I recognise the suffering that colonialism inflicted on the Algerian people," he said.
Referring to specific atrocities, Hollande cited the massacres at Guelma, Kherrata and Setif where nationalist unrest that broke out at the end of World War II was brutally suppressed by French forces, leaving thousands dead.
"On May 8, 1945, when the world triumphed over brutality, France forgot its universal values," Hollande said.
The truth "must also be spoken about the circumstances in which Algeria was delivered from the colonial system, in this war whose name was not mentioned in France for a long time, the Algerian war" of independence, he added.
"We have a duty to speak the truth about the violence, injustices, massacres and torture... Establishing the truth is an obligation that ties Algerians and French. That's why it is necessary that historians have access to the archives."
The French president said after arriving in Algeria on Wednesday that he had not come to say sorry for the crimes committed during the colonial period.
But he stressed the importance of recognising what happened as a way of beginning a new era in relations between the two countries, bound together by human, economic and cultural ties.
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.
Hollande promised on Thursday to "better accommodate" Algerians seeking to move to France and to streamline the visa process, saying that doing so was of "mutual interest."
It is necessary to "manage the flow of migrants" but the demand for visas "must not become an obstacle course, or worse still, a humiliation," he told the Algerian parliament.
"Rather, we need to ensure that the return trips continue, and are even increased, for students, businessmen, artists, families, in other words all those who drive the relationship" between France and Algeria.
Nearly 200,000 Algerians already receive visas every year.
On arrival, Hollande was received with full honours by his Algerian counterpart Abdelaziz Bouteflika, and said he wanted relations between their countries to be a "strategic partnership between equals."
The leaders later signed a declaration of friendship and cooperation.
The socialist president, accompanied by a 200-strong delegation including nine government ministers and around 40 business leaders, has been visiting Algeria after a period of lukewarm ties under his rightwing predecessor Nicolas Sarkozy.
His two-day trip to the energy-rich north African country also comes at a time when the French economy is sorely in need of a boost.
Hollande predicted that a deal signed for the construction of a factory by French vehicle manufacturer Renault near the western city of Oran would result in the assembly of at least 25,000 vehicles a year starting in 2014.
© 2012 AFP