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Hollande marks protest deaths

President stops short of apology for 1961 massacre of Algerian protesters in Paris but comments draw anger

PRESIDENT Hollande has paid homage to a group of Algerian protesters killed in Paris in 1961, victims of a “bloody repression”

In a statement, Hollande said France “recognised with lucidity” the “bloody repression” that took place on October 17, 1961 when Algerians protested against a curfew.

Different historians have estimated that between 30 and 200 people could have been killed in the police crackdown and the statement did not mention the number killed.

Like many events associated with the Algerian war, it is charged with emotion and politics and the massacre took place in a background of terrorist violence in the capital. Several hundred police, military and associates had been killed in France since war broke out in 1954.

The protest had been banned by the then head of the Paris police, Maurice Papon, and the events were largely forgotten until his 1998 conviction for crimes against humanity for his involvement in the deportation of Jews from Bordeaux.

Groups clamoured for official recognition of the event and Paris mayor Bertrand Delanoë installed a plaque on the Pont Saint-Michel in 2001. He has commemorated the incident each year.

Hollande's statement drew criticism, with the president of the opposition UMP in the National Assembly, Christian Jacob saying he “seemed to have recognised the responsibility of France in what he terms 'bloody repression'” and said it was “intolerable to blame the police and with it the whole French republic” for the event.

He said people should be wary of “attempts to politicise the memory of a difficult period in our history.”

UMP MP Eric Ciotti said: “One gets the impression that this government seeks to revive subjects that obviously divide the French. Instead of bringing them together, François Hollande seeks to permanently divide them.”

Socialist MP Patrick Mennucci said: “There is no debate over this subject because no historians contests the tragic train of events.

“It's good that France can carefully look at its history, its finest hours and its darkest moments.”

The former head of the Front National and war veteran Jean-Marie Le Pen said: “These people who put France and its responsibilities in the dock, they are not empowered to do that; not Mr Chirac, any more than Mr Hollande has the authority to recognise the guilt or innocence of France.”

Communist senators have put forward a proposal to make March 19 an official day of remembrance for all the victims of the Algerian War. It will be debated on October 25.

Hollande is due to visit Algeria in December.
Photo: Matthieu Riegler

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