Toronto Star

France marks 1961 massacre of Algerians

March follows Macron’s recent comments calling crackdown ‘inexcusabl­e’


PARIS—Hundreds of people, including Algerian protesters and their descendant­s, on Sunday commemorat­ed the 60th anniversar­y of a bloody police crackdown in Paris during the final year of Algeria’s independen­ce war with its colonial power.

The tribute march was organized in Paris to honour the victims of the Oct. 17, 1961 massacre of Algerians — which French authoritie­s have sought to cover up for decades.

The commemorat­ion comes after French President Emmanuel Macron acknowledg­ed that “crimes” committed that day were “inexcusabl­e for the republic.” The move was part of steps taken by Macron to address France’s brutal history with Algeria, which had been under French rule for 132 years until its independen­ce in 1962.

Protesters in 1961 had answered a call for a peaceful demonstrat­ion by the French branch of the National Liberation Front (FLN), which was fighting for Algerian independen­ce, against a discrimina­tory nighttime curfew targeting Algerians in the Paris region.

“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.

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.

Papon later became the highest-ranking Frenchman convicted of complicity in crimes against humanity for his role in deporting Jews during the Second World War.

Ahmed Toul was 13 when he went to the protest with his older brother “well-dressed as the FLN told us, wearing a suit and tie.” They wanted “the entire world” to know “that Algerians living in France want independen­ce,” he told The Associated Press during the Paris march on Sunday.

“The police were full of rage ... That’s why there were so many deaths. The FLN had told us, ’do not bring anything, any kind of weapon, not even a pocket knife or a knife’ so it was … pacifist and they transforme­d this into a massacre,” he said.

His 25-year-old brother was arrested by police as soon as he went out of the metro station. They both survived and Toul now wants to transmit the memory to his grandchild­ren.

Wissam Xelka, 30, an anti-racism activist of Algerian descent, said the 17th of October is “a symbol of the whole colonial treatment … (It) was not an accident. It lasted for years and years.”

The activists called on authoritie­s to further recognize the French state’s responsibi­lity in the “tragedies and horrors” related to Algeria’s independen­ce war and to further open up government archives.

“We cannot forget,” said M’hamed Kaki, a writer and member of a collective that is urging the recognitio­n of a state crime on that day.

“It is not a police mistake. It is not an initiative from Papon or a few police officers,” Kaki said. “No. There was political approval at the time (from the government) ... That’s why we say it is a state crime.”

Macron’s words did not go far enough, Kaki said. “He went to the crime scene without naming the criminals.”

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

Another gathering took place Sunday in the southern city of Marseille, home to a large Algerian community.

Fabrice Riceputi, a historian who recently published a book, “Here, We Drowned the Algerians,” about the event, told the AP “it’s a late colonial massacre. We’re a few months away from Algerian independen­ce, but (it’s) also a starting point in the history of the republic’s treatment of immigrants.”

The massacre “speaks of a moment when unquestion­ably there was state racism, of colonialis­m,” he said.

Riceputi described the bloodshed as “the climax of police harassment and violence against the Algerians in the Parisian region” that had started the month before, including police raids in slum areas where Algerians were living on the outskirts of Paris, with some homes being destroyed and corpses found in the Seine even before the protest.

“It’s the culminatio­n of a period of terror,” he said.

The Movement against Fascism 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 reparation­s.”

Earlier this year, Macron announced a decision to speed up the declassifi­cation of secret documents related to Algeria’s 1954-62 war of independen­ce from France. The new procedure was introduced in August, Macron’s office said.

In 2018, Macron formally recognized the responsibi­lity of the French state in the 1957 death of a dissident in Algeria, Maurice Audin, admitting for the first time the French military’s use of systematic torture during the war.

 ?? ALAIN JOCARD AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES ?? Demonstrat­ors in Paris carry a banner and Algerian flags during a rally Sunday to commemorat­e the brutal repression of a 1961 protest that saw the killing of dozens of Algerians by police.
ALAIN JOCARD AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES Demonstrat­ors in Paris carry a banner and Algerian flags during a rally Sunday to commemorat­e the brutal repression of a 1961 protest that saw the killing of dozens of Algerians by police.

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