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France has no right to interfere in Algeria’s protests, foreign minister says

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian on 11 January 2018 [Dursun Aydemir/Anadolu Agency]
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian on 11 January 2018 [Dursun Aydemir/Anadolu Agency]

French Foreign Minister John Yves Le Drian has criticised his country’s response to Algeria’s ongoing protests, saying France should not interfere in the affairs of a sovereign country.

Le Drian explained that France’s response was considered “biased in favour of the Algerian regime against the popular movement demanding not to extend [Algerian President Abdelaziz] Bouteflika’s fourth term”.

Speaking at a hearing before the Foreign Affairs Committee of France’s National Assembly, Le Drian said: “I want to make things clear concerning what is happening in Algeria. Our position in the past few days has been misinterpreted and misunderstood, and this is mainly due to our deep and complex relations with Algeria.”

France has been accused of backing the initiatives presented by Bouteflika, one of which has included a proposal to extend the ailing president’s current term despite the protests. In order to ease tensions surrounding this criticism, Le Drian asserted that “Algeria is a sovereign State and France does not have the right to interfere in its internal affairs”. He added: “The Algerian people are the only ones who have the right to decide their future and they have shown that they are determined to make their voices heard.”

He continued: “France has no right to get involved, and it is up to the Algerians only to decide and through a democratic dialogue.” Le Drian also warned that France “is hopeful that there will be a transitional phase as soon as possible to respond to the aspirations of Algerians”.

Le Drian stressed that “for several weeks, we have witnessed a big [protest] movement [in Algeria] and we follow it with interest and admiration, because the process of these demonstrations is peaceful, civilized and dignified, which we find ourselves obliged to commend.”

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Commenting on France’s position on the protests in Algeria, French writer and analyst Pierre Louis Raymond told Algerian newspaper Echorouk: “France has a long history of relations with Algeria. We have currently noticed the French president [Emmanuel Macron]’s restlessness and discomfort, not only with developments in the situation but also with the constants of international diplomatic positions, which he wanted to apply since he came to power after he announced them in his [election] campaign.”

Raymond explained: “These fundamental principles stated that [France] should not interfere in the internal affairs of any country whatsoever. In this context, we still remember the statements of the French president who described French colonialism as a crime against humanity.”

Raymond stressed: “We cannot talk about ‘supporting actions taken’ by the ruling power as a whole, but we can talk about French support for stability.”

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The French academic provided his reading of France’s positions, and whether there is fear of losing its interests in Algeria if Bouteflika’s term is brought to an end. On this, Raymond said: “I think that the French authorities have not solved things this way. Their handling of Algerian reality is still characterized with the principle of non-interference and at the same time non-ignorance, while looking at the democratic movement with interest. We should not forget also that the French president praised the movement and the Algerian youth.”

Raymond responded to the question of whether France is still considers Algeria a “backyard” that cannot be abandoned, saying: “The matter of the backyard will not be an issue of the same degree of centrality anymore for France. Let us not forget that economic relations and known interests are within a new context that cannot be denied by any Western country and France is no exception in this framework. Therefore, the French Foreign Ministry no longer adopts dogmatic positions such as ‘there must be’. The main principle now is pragmatism.”

Raymond concluded: “France respects peaceful democratic movements, wherever they are, outside its territory and of course on its territory. This is why I will not talk about ‘forcing a change of attitude’ as much as I will talk about France’s commitment to its expected role in such cases, which is the role of the pragmatic observer.”

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