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French leader Macron heads to Algeria in bid to heal wounds

French President Emmanuel Macron (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky) 
Sylvie Corbet, Associated Press

French President Emmanuel Macron is heading to Algeria for a three-day official visit.

The trip is aimed at addressing two major challenges: boosting future economic relations while seeking to heal wounds inherited from the colonial era, 60 years after the North African country won its independence from France.

The visit comes less than a year after a months-long diplomatic crisis between the two countries that stirred up post-colonial tensions and as war in Ukraine has reinforced Algeria’s status as a key partner to provide gas to the European continent.

In recent years, Mr Macron has made unprecedented steps to acknowledge torture and killings by French troops during Algeria’s 1954-62 war of independence, in a bid to appease the two countries’ still rancorous relations.

Yet the series of symbolic gestures has fallen short of an apology from France for its actions during the war — a longstanding demand from Algeria.

Mr Macron is to meet with Algerian President Abdelmajid Tebboune at the presidential El Mouradia palace.

In a phone call with Mr Tebboune on Saturday, he said the trip will help “deepen the bilateral relationship”, according to the Elysee. He expressed France’s support after deadly wildfires in eastern Algeria.

This is the second time Mr Macron has been to Algeria as president. During a brief stop in December 2017, he called for a “partnership between equals”.

Months before that, during a trip to Algiers as a presidential candidate, he called colonisation a “crime against humanity”.

Mr Macron, who is the first French president born after the end of Algeria’s brutal seven-year war of independence in 1962, has promised a reckoning of colonial-era wrongs. The country was occupied by France for 132 years.

In 2018, Mr Macron recognised the responsibility of the French state in the 1957 death of a dissident in Algeria, Maurice Audin, admitting for the first time the military’s use of systematic torture during the war.

He later made a key decision to speed up the declassification of secret documents related to the war, amid other gestures.

Mr Macron will have a second meeting with Mr Tebboune on Friday in the presence of the French army chief and defence and foreign ministers to discuss peace and stability in the region, after France completed the withdrawal of its troops from Mali earlier this month.

Paris still maintains troops in the broader Sahel region, with the heart of the operation moved to Niger.

Coordination with Algerian authorities is crucial as the country shares long borders in the Sahara with Mali, Libya and Niger, which are paths used by smugglers and Islamic extremists, the Elysee stressed.

No energy supply or other big trade contract is expected during Mr Macron’s trip, but the focus will be on future economic relations, according to the Elysee.

Algeria’s status as a key gas supplier for Europe has been enhanced amid fears that Russia could cut off the pipelines. The North African country is the EU’s third-largest gas supplier, representing 8.2% of the 27-nation bloc’s imports in 2021.

Algiers has already started increasing its gas supplies to the continent, mostly via two pipelines that connect the country to Italy and Spain.

It signed a four billion dollars gas deal with US group Occidental Petroleum, Italian company Eni and French giant Total.

Last year’s tensions spread in the Algerian public opinion a feeling of hostility toward France, echoed by the authorities’ push to replace the French language at school and in public administration by English.

The Elysee said Mr Macron will also raise human rights issues, in a country where activists criticise an unjust system of governance that views dissidents as criminals and does not allow freedom of speech.

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