Algeria buries remains of anti-French fighters, seeks Paris apology

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A convoy of coffins containing the remains of 24 Algerian resistance fighters heads towards their final resting place at El-Alia cemetery on July 5, 2020. (AFP)
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A convoy of coffins containing the remains of 24 Algerian resistance fighters heads towards their final resting place at El-Alia cemetery on July 5, 2020. (AFP)
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Updated 05 July 2020

Algeria buries remains of anti-French fighters, seeks Paris apology

  • The skulls of the fighters were laid to rest during an emotional ceremony at El Alia cemetery
  • The coffins draped with the national flag were lowered into freshly dug graves in the martyr’s square of Algeria’s largest burial ground

ALGIERS: Algeria on Sunday buried the remains of 24 resistance fighters returned from Paris after more than a century and a half as it marked the 58th anniversary of its independence from France.
The skulls of the fighters, shot and decapitated in the early years of the French occupation, were laid to rest during an emotional ceremony at El Alia cemetery.
The coffins draped with the national flag were lowered into freshly dug graves in the martyr’s square of Algeria’s largest burial ground, alongside national heroes such as top revolt leader Emir Abdelkader.
An elite unit of the Republican Guard presented arms while a funeral march played in the background, an AFP correspondent reported.
President Abdelmadjid Tebboune, who took part in the ceremony alongside other officials, on Saturday said it was time to turn a page on years of frosty relations with France, calling on Paris to apologize for its colonial past.
“We have already had half-apologies. The next step is needed... we await it,” he told news channel France 24 in an interview.
An apology was necessary to “face the problem of memory that jeopardizes many things in the relations between the two countries,” Tebboune said.
It would “make it possible to cool tensions and create a calmer atmosphere for economic and cultural relations,” especially for the more than six million Algerians who live in France, he added.
The skulls, once viewed as war trophies by French colonial officers, were flown into Algiers international airport on Friday and then moved to the Palace of Culture where they were placed on display.
Despite stifling heat, a long queue formed outside the palace and some men and women, waiting to pay their respects, wept, according to footage broadcast by several television stations.
“I came as a fighter, as an invalid from the war of libration, as a citizen who loves his country,” said Ali Zemlat.
The 85-year-old fought in the brutal 1954-1962 war that ended France’s 132 years of colonial rule in Algeria.
The skulls had been stored since the 19th century in the vaults of the Musee de l’Homme in Paris, which specializes in anthropology.
Among the remains were those of revolt leader Sheikh Bouzian, who was captured in 1849 by the French, shot and decapitated, and those of his comrades who had met the same fate.
Algeria had officially asked for their return in 2018, as well as requesting the handover of colonial archives.
The restitution of the skulls has been seen as a sign of a thaw in relations between Algeria and the former colonial power, marked since independence by recurrent tensions.
The French presidency, in a statement to AFP, said the return of the remains was a gesture of “friendship” and part of efforts to “reconcile the memories of the French and Algerian people.”
The repatriation comes amid a global reexamination of the legacy of colonialism, sparked by the May killing of unarmed African American George Floyd by a white police officer.
His murder sparked protests across the world, and UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet has urged countries to make amends for “centuries of violence and discrimination.”
Emmanuel Macron, the first French president to be born after the 1954-62 independence war in which 1.5 million Algerians died, made his first official visit to Algiers in December 2017.
At the time, he told news website Tout sur l’Algerie that he was “ready” to see his country hand back the skulls.
During his presidential election campaign, Macron had created a storm by calling France’s colonization of Algeria a “crime against humanity.”


Lebanon’s leaders face rage, calls for reform after blast

Updated 07 August 2020

Lebanon’s leaders face rage, calls for reform after blast

  • State media reported late Thursday that security forces fired tear gas in central Beirut to disperse dozens of anti-government demonstrators
  • Some protesters were injured

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s leadership faced growing rage after a massive explosion laid waste to large parts of central Beirut, with security forces firing tear gas at demonstrations late Thursday as international leaders called for reform.
Shock has turned to anger in a traumatized nation where at least 149 people died and more than 5,000 were injured in Tuesday’s colossal explosion of a huge pile of ammonium nitrate that had languished for years in a port warehouse.
To many Lebanese, it was tragic proof of the rot at the core of their governing system, which has failed to halt the deepest economic crisis since the 1975-1990 civil war and has plunged millions into poverty.
State media reported late Thursday that security forces fired tear gas in central Beirut to disperse dozens of anti-government demonstrators enraged by the blast.
Some in the small protest were wounded, the National News Agency reported.
Earlier, visiting French President Emmanuel Macron pledged to lead international emergency relief efforts and organize an aid conference in the coming days, promising that “Lebanon is not alone.”
But he also warned that the country — already in desperate need of a multi-billion-dollar bailout and hit by political turmoil since October — would “continue to sink” unless it implements urgent reforms.
Speaking of Lebanon’s political leaders, Macron said “their responsibility is huge — that of a revamped pact with the Lebanese people in the coming weeks, that of deep change.”
The International Monetary Fund, whose talks with Lebanon started in May but have since stalled, warned that it was “essential to overcome the impasse in the discussions on critical reforms.”
The IMF urged Lebanon — which is seeking more than $20 billion in external funding and now faces billions more in disaster costs — “to put in place a meaningful program to turn around the economy” following Tuesday’s disaster.
Macron’s visit to the small Mediterranean country, a French protectorate during colonial times, was the first by a foreign head of state since the disaster.
The French president visited Beirut’s harborside blast zone, a wasteland of blackened ruins, rubble and charred debris where a 140-meter-wide (460-foot-wide) crater has filled with seawater.
As he inspected a devastated pharmacy, crowds outside vented their fury at the country’s “terrorist” leadership, shouting “revolution” and “the people want an end to the regime!.”
Later Macron was thronged by survivors who pleaded with him to help get rid of their reviled ruling elite.
Another woman implored Macron to keep French financial aid out of the reach of Lebanese officials, accused by many of their people of rampant graft and greed.
“I guarantee you that this aid will not fall into corrupt hands,” the president pledged.
Macron later told BFMTV he was not presenting Lebanon’s leadership with a “diktat” after some of the political class criticized his remarks as interference.
Compounding their woes, Lebanon recorded 255 coronavirus cases Thursday — its highest single-day infection tally — after the blast upended a planned lockdown and sent thousands streaming into overflowing hospitals.
The disaster death toll rose from 137 to 149 on Thursday evening, the health ministry said, and was expected to further rise as rescue workers kept digging through the rubble.
Even as they counted their dead, many Lebanese were consumed with anger over the blast.
“We can’t bear more than this. This is it. The whole system has got to go,” said 30-year-old Mohammad Suyur.
The small demonstration on Thursday night, as well as a flood of angry social media posts, suggested the disaster could reignite a cross-sectarian protest movement that erupted in October but faded because of the grinding economic hardship and the coronavirus pandemic.
Prime Minister Hassan Diab and President Michel Aoun have promised to put the culprits responsible for the disaster behind bars.
A military prosecutor announced 16 port staff had been detained over the blast.
But trust in institutions is low and few on Beirut’s streets hold out hope for an impartial inquiry.
Amid the fury and gloom, the explosion’s aftermath has also yielded countless uplifting examples of spontaneous solidarity.
Business owners swiftly posted offers to repair doors, paint damaged walls or replace shattered windows for free.
Lebanon’s diaspora, believed to be nearly three times the tiny country’s five million population, has rushed to launch fundraisers and wire money to loved ones.
In Beirut, volunteers handled much of the cleanup.
Husam Abu Nasr, a 30-year-old volunteer, said: “We don’t have a state to take these steps, so we took matters into our own hands.”