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POLITICS

Macron marks 60 years since Paris police Algeria protest massacre

President Emmanuel Macron on Saturday will become the first French head of state to take part in commemorations of the massacre by Paris police of protesters at a rally 60 years ago against France's rule in its then-colony Algeria.

French President Emmanuel Macron delivers a speech with a microphone
Will Macron issue a formal apology for the actions of Paris police 60 years ago in Algeria? (Guillaume HORCAJUELO / POOL / AFP)

The events of October 17th, 1961 were covered up for decades and the final death toll remains unclear. But many historians believe it could amount to several hundred.

The rally was called in the final year of France’s increasingly violent attempt to retain Algeria as a north African colony, and in the middle of a bombing campaign targeting mainland France by pro-independence militants.

On Saturday, one day ahead of the formal anniversary, Macron will take part in a memorial ceremony for the victims at a park on the Paris outskirts from 1330 GMT.

A major question is whether he issues a formal apology for the actions of the Paris police that day or expresses regret, as the president seeks to carve out a modern relationship with France’s past.

The Paris police chief at the time, Maurice Papon, was later found to have collaborated with the Nazis during World War II.

The Elysee said the ceremony would take place in the presence of relatives of the victims, civil society activists who have campaigned for recognition of the massacre and veterans for Algeria’s struggle for independence.

‘State lie’

Activists are hoping Macron, the first president born in the post-colonial era, will go further than his predecessor Francois Hollande, who acknowledged in 2012 that protesting Algerians had been “killed during a bloody repression”.

Campaigners want an apology, reparations for the victims or recognition that the repression constituted a state crime.

The 1961 protests were called in response to a strict curfew imposed on Algerians to prevent the underground FLN resistance movement from collecting funds following a spate of deadly attacks on French police officers.

Some of the worst violence occurred on the Saint Michel bridge near the Notre-Dame cathedral where witnesses reported seeing police throwing Algerians into the river Seine where an unknown number drowned.

“There was a state cover-up, a state lie. There were government statements from the morning of October 18th that sought to incriminate the FLN and the Algerians,” historian Emmanuel Blanchard told AFP.

Macron, who is expected to seek re-election next year, may be wary about provoking a backlash from political opponents or the French police in his comments.

His far-right electoral opponents, nationalists Marine Le Pen and Eric Zemmour, are outspoken critics of efforts to acknowledge or show repentance for past crimes.

Another complication is an ongoing diplomatic row between Paris and Algiers fuelled by comments attributed to Macron describing the country as ruled by a “political-military system” that had “totally re-written” its history.

A report commissioned by the president from historian Benjamin Stora earlier this year urged a truth commission over the Algerian war but Macron ruled out issuing any official apology.

READ ALSO: What is behind the diplomatic spat between France and Algeria?

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POLITICS

Newly appointed French Minister faces rape allegations

The final composition of the new French government was announced on Friday. A new investigation suggests that historic rape allegations against a newly appointed minister were ignored.

Newly appointed French Minister faces rape allegations

It didn’t take long for scandal to hit the France’s new government.

An investigation by Mediapart published the day after the final list of ministerial positions was announced revealed that two women have accused one of the appointees of rape. 

READ MORE Who’s who in France’s new government?

Damien Abad, the new Solidarity Minister denies the allegations and a police investigation into one allegation was dropped in 2017. But another could be about to open. 

Who is Damien Abad? 

Damien Abad is a 42-year-old son of a miner from Nimes in southern France who became the first handicapped MP to be elected in 2012. He has arthrogryposis, a rare condition that affects the joints.

Prior to his appointment as the Minister for Solidarity, Autonomy and Disabled People, he was the leader of the France’s right-wing Republicans party in the Assemblée nationale

What are the allegations? 

Two alleged victims, who didn’t know each other, told Mediapart that Abad raped them on separate occasions in 2010 and 2011.

The first woman described meeting Abad for dinner after having met him weeks earlier at a wedding. She said she blacked out after one glass of champagne and woke up in her underwear in a hotel bed with Abad the next morning fearing she had been drugged. 

A second woman who lodged a formal charge against Abad in 2017 said that he harassed her by text message for years. She eventually agreed to meet with him one evening. After initially consenting, she told him to stop – but her plea fell on deaf ears as Abad raped her. 

What does Abad have to say? 

The new minister denies the accusations.

“It is physically impossible for me to commit the acts described,” he told Mediapart – in reference to his disability. 

He admitted to sending “sometimes intimate” messages, but said he had “obviously never drugged anyone”. 

“I was able to have adventures, I stand by my claim that they were always consensual.”

Is he under investigation? 

The second alleged victim made a formal allegation against Abad in 2017. 

A subsequent investigation was dropped later that year after a “lack of sufficient evidence was gathered”.

Mediapart report that Abad’s entourage were not questioned by police and that the MP told investigators that he had no memory of the alleged crime. 

The first alleged victim flagged the abuse to the Observatory of Sexist and Sexual Violence in Politics – an unofficial watchdog monitoring elected bodies – earlier this month. 

The Observatory has since brought the case to the state prosecutor, but it is unclear if another investigation will be launched.  

Who knew? 

The tone deaf appointment of Gérald Darmanin as Interior Minister in 2020 was controversial because at the time he was under investigation for rape. His nomination was met with street protests in Paris and elsewhere. Feminists accused (and continue to accuse) Emmanuel Macron of not taking sexual violence seriously. 

The investigation into Darmanin’s alleged crime has since been dropped.

Some will question whether the naming of Abad shows that lessons have not been learned. 

“Once again a minister  in the government of Emmanuel Macron accused of rape,” said Caroline De Haas, the founder of the #NousToutes feminist movement. 

The Observatory sent a message warning senior party figures in the Republicans and LREM about the allegations on Monday – prior to Abad’s nomination. 

France’s new Prime Minister Élisabeth Borne denied having any knowledge of the warning. 

“I am going to be very clear on all these questions of harassment and sexual violence, there will be no impunity,” she said during a visit to Calvados. 

“If there are new elements, if the courts are summoned, we will accept the consequences.” 

READ MORE Who is Élisabeth Borne, France’s new PM?

The Observatory meanwhile claims it has been ignored. 

“Despite our alerts, Damien Abad who is accused of rape has been named in government. Thoughts and support to the victims,” it tweeted

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