19 March 2012

Algeria: As Presidential Election Looms, No Commemoration in Paris of Algeria's War of Independence From France

The French defence minister on Monday justified the decision not to hold official commemorations in France to mark the 50th anniversary of the Evian Accords, the ceasefire agreement which marked the end of Algeria's war of independence from France.

Gérard Longuet noted that for some the accords marked the beginning of a period of great suffering. He might have added that with presidential elections in France this April and legislative elections in Algeria in May, there was a risk of inflaming passions.

When the accords were signed, European Algerians were given three years to decide whether to remain French or become Algerian.

Many of those who chose to stay French fled Algeria and settled in France, where they were known as the pieds noirs.

The group and their descendants now make up a powerful voting bloc, an estimated 3.2 million voters who have traditionally backed right wing or far right political parties.

Up to 200,000 Algerians who fought for France during the seven year war, the so-called Harkis, also fled to France after the conflict, but the government initially refused to recognise their right to stay in France and many ended up in internment camps.

Keen to reach out to this group ahead of the presidential election in April, Nicolas Sarkozy recently denounced what he said was the "abandonment" of this group by the French authorities of the time, calling it an injustice, though he stopped short of making a formal apology.

On Thursday, Socialist frontrunner François Hollande told a French language newspaper in Algeria that it was time to end the "war of memories" between France and Algeria over what happened. He talked of a cruel war and mentioned the hundreds of thousands of Algerians killed and the two million Algerians displaced, and he also evoked the fate of the pieds noirs, the harkis and the 30,000 French soldiers who died in the conflict.

And the war also featured in a bitter TV confrontation between far-left candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon and far-right National Front candidate Marine le Pen. Melcnchon said her father, Jean-Marie had "blood up to his elbows, the blood of a torturer", form his time serving in Algeria.

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