Algeria marks 50 years since France cease-fire

March 19, 2012 - 4:06 PM

ALGIERS, Algeria (AP) — Algeria paid little formal attention to Monday's 50th anniversary of the cease-fire ending its bloody war of independence from France, and France officially ignored the awkward anniversary.

But some Algerians marked the date by renewing calls for the state to "criminalize colonialism" through the law.

Algeria's 132 years as a French colony have always dogged the relations between the two countries, which are close but continually marked by flare-ups over their shared past.

Monday marked the anniversary of the March 19, 1962, cease-fire, but neither country held big formal ceremonies.

Referring to French President Nicolas Sarkozy, the Algerian daily El Watan noted the lack of commemoration for the anniversary by both countries with the headline "Algeria is chilly, Sarkozy hides his face."

On Sunday the powerful National Organization of Mujahideen, those that fought in the 1954-1962 war of independence, pushed to re-energize a law that has languished in parliament for the past two years that would condemn France's colonial past.

The law's backers say it is a response to a 2005 law passed by the French parliament that some see as glorifying its time as a colonial power.

The National Liberation Front, the largest party in parliament and direct heir of the organization that battled the French, issued a statement putting forward its "immutable position" that France needs to apologize and acknowledge "its crimes against Algerians."

For its part, the French government announced Friday that there will be no official commemoration of the anniversary since it was "a date that divides and reopens deep wounds of a painful page in the recent history of France."

The statement, however, was not above some score-settling of its own.

"It also marks the beginning of the drama for those who were forcibly uprooted and the beginning of the tragedy for the harkis, massacred in the weeks that followed," said the statement. Algerians who fought on the French side were known as harkis.

On Sunday, Said Abadou of Algeria's organization of former fighters maintained that not a single harki was killed.

Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika attempted to steer clear of any mention about colonialism and France on the anniversary and instead tried to shift the focus to landmark parliamentary elections set for May.

While Algeria was spared the mass protests in 2011 that brought down other Arab governments, the president still initiated a series of political reforms to respond to popular dissatisfaction.

"It is our duty on the 50th anniversary of Victory Day to evaluate ourselves and judge if our actions are working to preserve the spirit of that time," he said in his message to the nation.

Signed on March 18, the accords ended the 132-year-old French presence in Algeria, and on March 19 there was a cease-fire.

The accords were approved on April 8 by 90 percent of the French in a referendum, and on July 1, by 99 percent of the Algerians. Algeria's official independence day is July 5, for which several grandiose celebrations are planned this year.

Bouteflika expressed the hope that the "children of the nation" would vote on May 10 with the same enthusiasm shown in the 1962 referendum.

There are fears, however, that the elections will witness low turnout by a population that is deeply cynical with the political process. The legislative elections five years earlier saw a turnout of just 37 percent.

There are constant small outbreaks of violence and rioting by a population that feels ill-served by the state.

The youth, which make up two-thirds of the population, are showing little interest in the colonial struggle, report history teachers, and the Ministry of Youth announced that "caravans of memory" would crisscross the nation to educate them about the accords.

"The youth know very little about this event which marked one of the great pages in the history of the country," said Kawther Krim, the daughter of Krim Belkacem, who signed the accords for Algeria.

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Paul Schemm contributed to this report.