Algerian president demands 'total respect' from France

Algiers (AFP) –


Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune on Sunday demanded France's "total respect", following a row over visas and critical comments from Paris about the North African country.

Last weekend, Algeria recalled its ambassador from Paris and banned French military planes from its airspace, which France regularly uses to reach its forces battling jihadists in the Sahel region to the south.

The moves came after a bitter row over visas, followed by media reports that French President Emmanuel Macron had told descendants of Algeria's 1954-1962 war of independence that Algeria was ruled by a "political-military system" that had "totally re-written" its history.

The office of Algeria's president responded by saying the comments, which have not been denied, were an "interference" in the country's internal affairs.

On Sunday, Tebboune spoke publicly for the first time about the row, telling local media outlets the return of the Algerian ambassador to France was "conditional on total respect for the Algerian state".

"We forget that it (Algeria) was once a French colony... History should not be falsified," he added. "We can't act like nothing happened."

Macron's remarks last week to French daily Le Monde were widely picked up by Algerian media, which slammed them as "vitriolic".

The French president reportedly criticised what he called the "official history" which Algeria had written for itself, saying it was "not based on truths".

He was quoted as pondering: "Was there an Algerian nation before French colonisation? That's the question."

And he also described Tebboune as being "trapped in a system which is very tough".

Relations between the two countries have often been strained but never have they hit the lows of recent days.

- Visa row -

At the end of September, France said it would sharply reduce the number of visas it grants to citizens of Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia, accusing the former French colonies of not doing enough to allow illegal immigrants to return.

When a French court denies a person's visa request, authorities must still secure a special travel pass from his or her home country to forcibly expel them.

French media had previously reported that courts had rejected 7,731 Algerian visa requests in the first six months of this year, but travel passes had not been granted.

On Sunday, Tebboune accused the French government of "a big lie" around those numbers, insisting France had only notified them of 94 cases.

The Le Monde article quoted Macron as saying the visa move would have no impact on students or business figures and was aimed at "annoying people in leadership".

But Tebboune suggested that the decision had more to do with internal French politics.

"I'm not going to hold forth in a newspaper about populism and the election campaign," Tebboune said. "But there were never 7,000 (illegal Algerian immigrants). That's completely false."

Immigration is shaping up to be a key issue in next year's French presidential election, when Macron is widely expected to again face off against the far-right leader Marine Le Pen.

- 'Never-ending memory war' -

Macron has gone further than previous French presidents in seeking to face up to France's colonial history.

He has described the colonisation of Algeria as a "crime against humanity", and asked for forgiveness from the families of Algerians who fought alongside the French.

And last year, Macron tasked French historian Benjamin Stora to assess how France has dealt with its colonial legacy in Algeria.

In his report, Stora said France and Algiers were locked in a "never-ending memory war" and competing claims of victimisation.

Algiers rejected report, saying it was "not objective" and failed to prove an "official recognition by France of war crimes and crimes against humanity, perpetrated during the 130 years of the occupation of Algeria".