French military planes blocked after Macron sparks fury with 'irresponsible' claims

The French President was reported in Le Monde to have said that Algeria’s “politico-military system” had rewritten the history of its colonisation by France based on “a hatred of France”. Macron was also quoted questioning whether there had been an Algerian nation before French colonial rule.

The comments sparked the fury of the Northern African country which reacted by closing its airspace to French military planes, escalating the biggest row between the two nations in years.

A spokesperson for the French Armed Forces said Algeria had closed its airspace to two flights, but that it would have “no major consequences” for operations in the Sahel region, south of Algeria.

On Saturday, Algeria recalled its ambassador to Paris citing the comments attributed to the French President.

The Algerian government did not specify which Macron comment had prompted the recall of its ambassador, but it accused him of interfering in Algerian internal affairs.

A source in the Algerian government said the comment about the country’s existence as a nation had caused particular anger.

Algeria won its independence from France in 1962 after a bloody military struggle.

Algeria’s ruling elite since independence has been largely drawn from veterans of its war of liberation from France.

“We understand Macron is on campaign and that he wants to get far-right support by all means, such as insulting Algeria’s history… This is unacceptable to us,” a former Algerian minister said.

The Algerian presidency expressed its “rejection of any interference in its internal affairs”, describing Macron’s comments as “inadmissible” and “irresponsible”.

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France holds a presidential election next April.

The row comes on top of strains last week when France said it would slash the number of visas available to citizens of Maghreb countries – drawing a formal protest from Algeria.

France has about 5,000 troops in the Sahel region, south of Algeria, fighting alongside regional militaries against Islamist militant groups mainly in Mali and Niger.

Macron also reportedly described the Algerian system as “tired” and “weakened” by the Hirak.

He refers to “a good dialogue” with current President Abdelmajid Tebboune”, adding that his counterpart was “caught in a system which is very tough”.

The French leader apologised to Algerians in September, recognising those who fought alongside French colonial forces in Algeria’s war for independence and were then massacred as traitors.

In July 2020, he decided that the remains of 24 Algerian resistance fighters killed in the 19th century could be returned to Algeria.

And in 2018, President Macron admitted to the French army’s systemic use of torture in the 1954-62 Algerian war.

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