France remembers Algerian massacre 60 years on

Human rights groups and Algerian associations in France called on authorities to further recognise the French state’s responsibilities in the 1961 massacre of Algerians and to further open up archives.

Police officers stand near a wreath of flowers on the Saint Michel bridge during a ceremony to commemorate the brutal repression of an October 17, 1961 demonstration during which at least 120 Algerians were killed during a protest to support Algerian independence, in Paris on October 17, 2021 (AFP)

A tribute march has been organised in Paris for the 60th anniversary of the bloody police crackdown on a protest by Algerians in the French capital, during the final year of their country’s independence war with its colonial power.

The commemoration comes after French President Macron acknowledged that “crimes” committed on October 17, 1961 — which authorities have sought to cover up for decades — were “inexcusable for the Republic.”

Human rights and anti-racism groups and Algerian associations in France staged a tribute march in Paris on Sunday afternoon.

They called on authorities to further recognise the French state’s responsibilities in the “tragedies and horrors” related to Algeria’s independence war and to further open up archives.

Historians say at least 120 protesters died, some shot and some drowned, according to Macron’s office. The exact number has never been established as archives remain partially closed.

“The repression was brutal, violent, bloody” under the orders of Paris police chief Maurice Papon, Macron said in a statement released Saturday. About 12,000 Algerians were arrested and dozens were killed, “their bodies thrown into the Seine River,” the statement said.

Activists demand justice

Activists want the massacre to be recognised as “state crime” committed by police, the opening of a memorial site, and reparations, amid other demands.

The Movement against racism and for friendship between people, or MRAP, deplored that Macron’s statement did not include “any word about the context of the Algeria war, any word on colonialism, nothing about archives… even less about reparation.”

Earlier Sunday, Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo attended a tribute ceremony at the Saint-Michel bridge, in the capital’s city centre.

Macron paid tribute to victims on Saturday at the Bezons bridge over the Seine River in the northwest of Paris. He was the first president to attend a commemoration event for the massacre.

‘A shameful stain’

Rebuffing controversial statements by France’s president, Algeria’s parliament on Saturday said that on a single day in 1961, some 300 peaceful Algerians were massacred by the French police.

A special session of the National People’s Assembly, the lower house of Algeria’s parliament, was also held to mark the anniversary.

The massacre, according to Parliament Speaker Ibrahim Boughali, remains a shameful stain on France, because crimes against humanity do not expire.

A statement by the Algerian Information Ministry stated that the Algerian demonstrators in France were civilians who were subjected to brutality, torture, and killing.

“In a country that falsely markets itself as a human rights defender, the intervention against the demonstrators left 300 dead, including women, children, and the elderly,” the statement said.

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