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ALGERIa - FRANCE

First-ever French minister visits Algerian colonial massacre site

Todeschini lays a wreath in tribute to the victims of the Sétif massacre (from his Twitter account @JM_Todeschini)
Todeschini lays a wreath in tribute to the victims of the Sétif massacre (from his Twitter account @JM_Todeschini) Screengrab
2 min

For the first time ever a member of the French government has visited the scene of a colonial-era massacre in Algeria. But some Algerians are asking why Veterans Minister Jean-Marc Todeschini has gone to Sétif nearly a month before the actual 70th annivesary of the killings.

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Todeschinion Sunday placed a wreath on the monument to the first victim of French troops' violent reaction to pro-independence demonstrations in Sétif, Guelma and Kheratta on 8 May 1945.

As France celebrated its liberation from German occupation, Algerians turned marches in eastern Algeria into a demand for the end of colonial rule, which did not come about until after a bloody war in 1962.

French troops fired on the demonstrators when a riot broke out in response to a police officer killing a young man waving an Algerian flag.

The Algerian government has claimed as many as 45,000 died, while the colonial authorities at the time put the figure at 1,165. 

Historians' estimates vary between 5,000 and 10,000.

About 100 Europeans were also killed in the violence.

"This Sunday for the first time words will be matched by a gesture, the concrete expression of France's homage to the victims and the recognition of the suffering inflicted," Todeschini told the Algerian Presse Service agency.

But he appealed to Algerians to "see what brings us together, what we share and what can help us go forward".

French ambassador Hubert Colin de Verdière recognised France's responsibility in the massacres in 2005 and President François Hollande spoke of the "suffering that colonisation inflicted" and a "profoundly unjust and brutal colonial system" when addressing the Algerian parliament in 2012.

But that is not enough for some descendants of the victims, interviewed by El Watan daily ahead of Todeschini's visit.

*"We're not talking about repentance but of official apology," said Salim Bouguessa, whose father, Mohamed, was one of the march's organisers.

He criticised the minister for not attending the official commemoration on 8 May, the day France will mark the end of World War II in Europe.

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