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Algeria has closed its airspace to French military aircraft supporting the campaign against Islamic insurgents in the Sahel, the latest phase of a deteriorating battle between the North African country and the former colonial power.
Algeria stretches over a large area between the Mediterranean Sea and the nations Mali and Niger south of the Sahara. France confirmed on Sunday that flights had been blocked. “We had to make adjustments, but Algeria’s decision has no bearing on French operations in the Sahel region of Africa,” a military spokesman said.
French President Emmanuel Macron is also embroiled in a dispute with Mali’s military junta, which has accused Paris of abandoning it by cutting off its anti-terrorist operations in the Sahel region. The junta threatened to hire Russian mercenaries to fight the insurgents.
Algeria’s decision on floods comes a day after the country recalled its ambassador to Paris amid a war of words exacerbated by statements by Macron.
Relations have already been strained over Paris ‘decision last week to reduce the number of visas granted to Algerians, Tunisians and Moroccans, and France blames the decision on the three governments’ refusal to take back illegal migrants to to be repatriated to the French authorities.
Algeria’s Foreign Ministry has summoned France’s ambassador to protest the visa decision.
The dispute escalated after remarks by Macron during a meeting with 18 young people of Algerian origin last Thursday at the Elysée to try to heal the wounds in France as a result of the Algerian war of independence that has been going on for generations.
In the course of the meeting, covered by the newspaper Le Monde, he criticized what he called the Algerian state’s “rewriting of history”, not on facts, but on a discourse that depended on “hatred towards France”.
When told that young Algerians do not actually hate France, Macron said: ‘I am not talking about Algerian society, but about the political-military system built on this exploitation of memory. . . I have a good dialogue with President [Abdelmadjid] Tebboune, but I can see that he is trapped in a very hard system. ”
Tebboune reacted angrily, criticizing Macron’s remarks as ‘unacceptable interference’ in his country’s affairs and an ‘unbearable insult’ to millions of Algerians who died in the struggle against the French occupation from 1850 to independence in 1962.
“The crimes of colonial France in Algeria are innumerable and fit with the strongest definitions of genocide,” Tebboune said. There were some in France who said they wanted to hide acts by the colonial power, such as ‘carnage’ and the destruction of villages.
Macron is seen to have gone further than his predecessors in the Elysée Palace to force France to restore its colonial past, to call colonialism “a crime against humanity” and the role of the French state in torture of Algerian independence fighters – although he stopped a complete apology to Algeria.
In Algeria, however, the visa decision and its remarks on history have been interpreted by some as an attempt to incite voters in a presidential election campaign in which its toughest rivals are pro-immigration.
France and Algeria have significant political and economic ties, but their relationship is complex with great sensitivity due to their shared history that regularly flares up in diplomatic ranks.