France’s Macron concludes Algeria visit with new pact

French President Emmanuel Macron and his Algerian counterpart Abdelmadjid Tebboune Saturday declared a "new, irreversible dynamic of progress" in their nations' ties, concluding a visit by Macron aimed at ending months of tensions.

French President Emmanuel Macron (L) and Algeria's President Abdelmadjid Tebboune shake hands in Algeria
French President Emmanuel Macron (L) and Algeria's President Abdelmadjid Tebboune (C) attend a signing ceremony in the pavilion of honour at Algiers airport, in Algiers, on August 27, 2022. Macron is on a three-day visit to Algeria aimed at mending ties with the former French colony. Ludovic MARIN / AFP

The three-day visit has aimed to turn the page on months of tensions with the North African country, which earlier this year marked six decades of independence following 132 years of French rule.

It also came as European powers scramble to replace Russian energy imports — including with supplies from Algeria, Africa’s top gas exporter, which in turn is seeking a greater regional role.

In their joint declaration on Saturday, the two leaders said “France and Algeria have decided to open a new era … laying the foundation for a renewed partnership expressed through a concrete and constructive approach, focused on future projects and youth.”

At the signing ceremony, Tebboune addressed his guest in French, gushing over an “excellent, successful visit… which allowed for a rapprochement which wouldn’t have been possible without the personality of President Macron

France's President Emmanuel Macron (R) shakes hands with Boualem Benhaoua (L), owner of the disco Maghreb Shopin

France’s President Emmanuel Macron (R) shakes hands with Boualem Benhaoua (L), owner of the Disco Maghreb music store during his visit in Oran on August 27, 2022. (Photo by Ludovic MARIN / AFP)

Ties between Paris and Algiers have seen repeated crises over the years.

They had been particularly cool since last year when Macron questioned Algeria’s existence as a nation before the French occupation and accused the government of fomenting “hatred towards France”.

Tebboune withdrew his country’s ambassador in response and banned French military aircraft from its airspace.

Normal diplomatic relations have since resumed, along with overflights to French army bases in sub-Saharan Africa.

‘Lack of courage’

After vowing to “build a new pact”, Macron was in the spiritual home of Rai music on Saturday, visiting a record shop made famous by French-Algerian singer DJ Snake’s recent hit of the same name, “Disco Maghreb”.

He also met athletes and artists and went for a somewhat chaotic walk in the streets where police struggled with onlookers trying to shake his hand or take photos.

On Friday evening, he had dinner with Algerian writer Kamel Daoud and other Oran personalities.

He had also met young entrepreneurs who quizzed him on the difficulties of getting visas to France, the decline of the French language in its former colony and the contentious issues around the two countries’ painful past.

Macron announced that an additional 8,000 Algerian students would be admitted to study in France this year, joining 30,000 already in the country.

He also announced the creation of a joint commission of historians to examine the colonial period and the devastating eight-year war that ended it.

But in France, both left and right-wing politicians were angered by the suggestion.

Socialist party leader Olivier Faure noted that Macron in 2017 had called French colonialism a “crime against humanity”, then later questioned the existence of Algeria as a nation prior to the colonial period.

“The lightness with which he deals with the subject is an insult to wounded memories,” Faure tweeted.

Far right leader Thomas Menage tweeted that Algeria should stop “using its past to avoid establishing true, friendly diplomatic relations”.

Macron’s visit was not universally welcomed by Algerians either.

“History can’t be written with lies… like the one that Algeria was created by France,” read an editorial in the French-language Le Soir newspaper.

“We expected Macron to erase this gross untruth during this visit,” it said, criticising him for a “lack of courage… to recognise his own faults and those of his country”.

France's President Emmanuel Macron (C) and  Algiers' archbishop Mgr Jean-Paul Vesco

France’s President Emmanuel Macron (C) and Algiers’ archbishop Mgr Jean-Paul Vesco (R) listen to explanations during a visit inside the chapel of the Santa Cruz fortress in Oran on August 27, 2022. (Photo by Ludovic MARIN / AFP)

Security meeting 

Earlier on Friday, Macron laid a wreath at a monument to those who “died for France”, in the mixed Christian-Jewish Saint Eugene cemetery which was a major burial ground for Europeans during colonial times.

Later in the day he met young Algerian entrepreneurs and visited the iconic Grand Mosque of Algiers before heading to second city Oran.

Also on  Friday, Macron and Tebboune presided over a “coordination meeting” involving security officials from both countries, “the first at this level since independence”, the Algerian presidency said.

French President Emmanuel Macron (C), and his official delegation, (from L) French Sports Minister Amelie Oudea-Castera, French Culture Minister Rima Abdul-Malak, French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin, French Foreign and European Affairs Minister Catherine Colonna, French Secretary of State for Veterans and Memory Patricia Miralles and French Armies Minister Sebastien Lecornu attend a meeting with members of the French community at the French ambassador to Algeria's residence, in Algiers

French President Emmanuel Macron (C), and his official delegation attend a meeting with members of the French community at the French ambassador to Algeria’s residence, in Algiers, on August 26, 2022, (Photo by Ludovic MARIN / AFP)

The French army’s chief of staff General Thierry Burkhard, his Algerian counterpart Said Chanegriha and France’s Defence Minister Sebastien Lecornu were among those in attendance, Algiers said.

Gas ‘good’ for Europe

Algeria is seeking a bigger role in the region, buoyed by surging energy prices that have filled the coffers of Africa’s top natural gas exporter following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Macron’s office said gas was not a major feature of the visit — although the head of French energy firm Engie, Catherine MacGregor, was in Macron’s 90-strong delegation.

The president said on Friday that Algeria had helped Europe diversify its energy supplies by pumping more gas to Italy, which last month signed a deal to import billions more cubic metres via an undersea pipeline from the North
African coast.

French President Emmanuel Macron (3rd R), Algerian Foreign Affairs Minister Ramtane Lamamra (2nd L) and imam of the Great Mosque of Algiers Mohamed Mamoun El-Kacimi El-Hassani (R) visit the Great Mosque of Algiers

French President Emmanuel Macron (3rd R), Algerian Foreign Affairs Minister Ramtane Lamamra (2nd L) and Imam of the Great Mosque of Algiers Mohamed Mamoun El-Kacimi El-Hassani (R) visit the Great Mosque of Algiers, on August 26, 2022. Ludovic MARIN / AFP

The deal is “good for Italy, it’s good for Europe and it improves the diversification of Europe,” he told reporters.

He also dismissed suggestions that Italy and France were “in competition”, noting that France only relies on natural gas for a small part of its energy mix.

The two leaders discussed how to bring stability to Libya, the Sahel region and the disputed territory of Western Sahara, according to Tebboune.

They also spoke at length about the spiky issue of French visas for Algerians, and Macron said Friday they had “very freely” discussed the human rights situation in Algeria.

“These issues will be settled in full respect of Algerian sovereignty,” Macron said.

He urged young Algerians “not to be taken in” by the “immense manipulation” of social media networks by foreign powers including Russia and China, which are both allies of Algiers.


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Pope arrives in Marseille for trip shadowed by migrant crisis

Pope Francis arrived in Marseille on Friday for a two-day visit focused on the Mediterranean and migration, bringing to France a message of tolerance amid bitter debate over how Europe manages asylum seekers.

Pope arrives in Marseille for trip shadowed by migrant crisis

Marseille was decked out in the yellow and white colours of the Vatican for the first visit by a pope to France’s second-largest city in 500 years, where 100,000 people are expected to turn out to see the pontiff in his “popemobile” on Saturday.

The 86-year-old is visiting to take part in a meeting of Mediterranean-area Catholic bishops and young people — but his trip comes at a politically sensitive time.

The pontiff disembarked at Marseille airport from his plane away from the view of cameras. He was then wheeled in a wheelchair towards Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne, who was waiting on the airport tarmac to greet him, an AFP correspondent said.

He then stood up from his wheelchair to acknowledge the welcome of a military band.

A surge in migrant boats arriving from North Africa on the tiny Italian island of Lampedusa last week trigged outrage in Italy and a heated debate across Europe over how to share responsibility for the numbers.

Marseille is a historic gateway for immigrants and also home to some of the poorest neighbourhoods in Europe, many of which are plagued by drug trafficking.

The desperate conditions that cause many people to leave their homes for a new life, and the risks they take to do so, have been a key theme during Francis’s decade as head of the Catholic Church.

Speaking at the Vatican on Sunday, he noted that migration “represents a challenge that is not easy… but which must be faced together”.

He emphasised the need for “fraternity, putting human dignity and real people, especially those most in need, in first place”.

Ahead of what will be his 44th overseas trip, Francis acknowledged this month that papal voyages were not as easy as they used to be.

He underwent hernia surgery in June, less than two years after having colon surgery, and routinely uses a wheelchair because of a troublesome knee.

Meeting pilgrims

Despite the decline in France of Catholicism, the once dominant faith, the pope’s visit has sparked huge enthusiasm, with almost 60,000 people expected at a mass on Saturday afternoon.

“Habemus papam” headlined regional newspaper La Provence, using the famous Latin phrase meaning “We have a pope!” used  on the election of a pontiff.

For Joseph Achji, a 25-year-old Syrian Christian originally from Aleppo, the pope’s visit is a “chance of a lifetime”.

He will head to the Basilica of Notre-Dame de la Garde, a symbolic monument overlooking the city, for a prayer with local clergy on Friday afternoon.

That will be followed by a moment of meditation with representatives of other religions at a memorial to sailors and migrants lost at sea.

The United Nations estimates that more than 28,000 migrants who have tried to cross the Mediterranean since 2014 have gone missing.

After 8,500 migrants landed on Lampedusa in three days earlier this month, the European Union promised more help for Rome.

But France, amid wrangling over a draft law governing migrant arrivals there, said it would not accept anyone from the island.

“We are expecting very strong words” from the pope, said Francois Thomas, head of Marseille-based SOS Mediterranee, which operates a migrant rescue boat in the sea.

“It is our humanity that is sinking if Europe does not do something.”

Mass with Macron

On Saturday morning, Francis will take part in the closing session of the “Mediterranean Meetings” event.

As well as migration, it will cover issues such as economic inequality and climate change — also themes close to the pope’s heart.

On Saturday afternoon, Francis will lead a mass at the Velodrome stadium, with French President Emmanuel Macron among those due to attend.

Macron’s attendance has sparked controversy among left-wing politicians in the officially secular country.

Some right-wing politicians have criticised the pope’s stance on migrants — but Marseille mayor Benoit Payan said the pontiff “has a universal message… of peace”.

Francky Domingo, who runs a migrant association in Marseille, said he hoped the visit would “give back a little hope” and “ease tensions at the political level”.

“Marseille is a cosmopolitan city, multicultural, multi-faith,” he told AFP, but faces “enormous difficulties”.