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France: senate votes for bill as 'apology' to Algerian 'Harkis'

People hold placards and Algerian flags during a rally to commemorate the brutal repression of an Oct 17, 1961 demonstration during which at least 120 Algerians were killed during a protest to support Algerian independence, near the Pont Neuf bridge on 17 October 2021 in Paris. [ALAIN JOCARD/AFP via Getty Images]
People hold placards and Algerian flags during a rally to commemorate the brutal repression of an Oct 17, 1961 demonstration during which at least 120 Algerians were killed during a protest to support Algerian independence, near the Pont Neuf bridge on 17 October 2021 in Paris. [ALAIN JOCARD/AFP via Getty Images]

The Senate in France has passed the first reading of a bill which would act as an official apology for the Muslim Algerians who fought alongside French soldiers during Algeria's war of independence, Agence France Presse has reported. The apology to the so-called "Harkis" is an attempt to repair the damage that was wrought in the war from 1954 to 1962.

MPs insisted, though, that the bill cannot be considered as a "settlement of damages". They passed it almost unanimously, with 331 votes in favour and just 13 abstentions.

The bill was pushed through the Senate sixty years after Algeria won its independence from France in a war in which 500,000 were killed. Algerians who fought for France were said to have been abandoned by the country after independence. Ninety thousand Harkis and their families fled to France in 1962 only to be kept in "inappropriate conditions" when they got there, including camps and converted prisons.

The new law stipulates reparations for those held in such camps, but not those who lived in cities. The number of potential beneficiaries is estimated by the French government at 50,000 at an overall cost of €302 million spread over six years.

READ: Algeria's Ambassador to return to Paris after 3-month hiatus

"This law is an acknowledgment by the nation of the deep fracture, a French tragedy, and a dark page in our history," said Geneviève Darrieussecq, the Minister Delegate of Memory and Veterans Affairs. Rapporteur Marie-Pierre Richer described it as "an important advance" even though "it looks unfinished."

The Senate adopted two amendments to expand the powers of the Recognition and Reparations Commission created by the bill. The government proposed that "all Harkis" may apply to this committee, which will examine their situation individually and suggest "any appropriate measure in recognition of what they went through."

The minister warned against providing "false hopes" with this amendment. "The committee will not have the power to award compensation by itself," she insisted.

Up to 200,000 Harkis were recruited as auxiliaries by the French army during the war that ended with Algerian independence. Since 2003, there has been an annual national day, 25 September, to honour them.

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