ALGIERS (Reuters) â€” President Abdelaziz Bouteflika has repeated a demand that France apologise to Algeria for â€œgenocidalâ€ colonial rule, saying this was the only way to turn a chronically ill relationship into true friendship.
Bouteflikaâ€™s remarks are likely to annoy French authorities, who only last month were dismayed when the Algerian leader said Franceâ€™s 132-year possession of the giant oil exporting north African country amounted to a genocide of Algerian identity.
France is trying to shore up its diplomatic and economic influence in Africaâ€™s second largest country at a time when the United States is developing more oil interests and trade across the southern shores of the Mediterranean.
In a speech read for him on Sunday evening by Minister for Veterans Affairs Mohammad Sharif Abbas, Bouteflika said: â€œIt is clear that since [independence on] July 5 1962, each is master in his own house and there is no question of us applying pressure to obtain what seems our elementary right: That is to say, a public and solemn apology for the crime of colonialisation committed against our people.â€ He added there was no crisis in relations between the two nations, but true friendship could not be forced.
â€œIf we as a people have triumphed over an undiluted colonialism at the price of unpeakable suffering, it is not to succumb to the sirens of a one-sided friendship.â€ He said that French people should tell each other: â€œYes, our colonial adventure was genocidal… Yes, our state should clean the dark colonialist side of its face and, as have other nations around the world, apologise to the people it has oppressed.â€ Bouteflikaâ€™s speech was made in the eastern town of Guelma at a ceremony marking the killings of thousands of Algerians who took to the streets to demand independence as Europe celebrated victory over Nazi Germany on May 8, 1945.
The crackdown by French forces lasted several days and according to the Algerian state left 45,000 people dead.
European historians put the figure at between 6,000 and 20,000.
Â Friendship treaty
Franceâ€™s ambassador to Algeria has said that the Setif massacre was an â€œinexcusable tragedy.â€
Bouteflika first called for a French apology in 2004 and he repeated it again at the same May 8 ceremony a year ago.
The repression sparked the anti-colonial movement and a long war of independence, costing the lives of 1.5 million Algerians, according to the government. Many French also perished.
Last month the two countries bickered over the protocol of a mid-April health check Bouteflika had in the French capital.
French right-wingers complained France should not have permitted Bouteflika to visit Paris, because just days earlier in a speech in the eastern town of Constantine he said French colonialism amounted to a genocide of Algerian identity.
Many French were offended.
Algeria and France have been trying to sign an important friendship treaty, but newspaper commentators have said the latest disputes mean it will not be signed soon.
Bouteflika on Sunday said the problems in the relationship had lasted so long they had become structural. â€œAlgeria cannot continue to suffer them like a chronic rheumatic,â€ he said.