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Sculpture of Algerian hero vandalised in France

Vandals in central France damaged a sculpture of an Algerian military hero who resisted France's colonisation of the North African country, just hours before it was inaugurated Saturday, AFP journalists reported.

Amboise Castle
Amboise Castle, where Emir Abdelkader was held under guard in the 19th century. The statue of the Algerian military hero in Amboise was vandalised before its inauguration on Saturday. (Photo by LUDOVIC MARIN / AFP)

The lower part of the steel sculpture in the town of Amboise, where Emir Abdelkader was imprisoned from 1848 to 1852, was badly damaged in the attack which comes in the midst of an election campaign dominated by harsh rhetoric on immigration and Islam.

Amboise mayor Thierry Boutard said he was “ashamed” of those responsible and decided to proceed with the inauguration ceremony regardless.

“I was ashamed that someone would treat an artwork and an artist in this way,” he told AFP.

“My second sentiment is of course one of indignation. This is a day of harmony and unity and this kind of behaviour is unspeakable,” he said.

The sculpture was commissioned to coincide with the 60th anniversary of Algeria’s independence from France, won after a brutal eight-year liberation war that continues to poison relations between the two countries.

It was proposed by historian Benjamin Stora, who was tasked by President Emmanuel Macron with coming up with ways to heal the memories of the war and 132 years of French rule in Algeria.

The silhouette of the Islamic-scholar-turned-military-leader, who resisted French rule but was later feted as a hero in France for his defence of Christians in the Middle East, looks across the Loire river at the castle where he was imprisoned.

Amboise police said they were investigating the incident, which comes two months ahead of a presidential election in which an upstart far-right candidate, Eric Zemmour, has repeatedly grabbed headlines with a campaign bashing Islam and immigration from Africa, including Algeria.

‘Nauseating atmosphere’ 
Algeria’s ambassador to France Mohamed Antar Daoud, who attended the inauguration, condemned the attack as an act of “unspeakable baseness”.

“We have to get beyond that,” he said, assuring that attempts to mend fences between France and Algeria would continue because “there is momentum and a desire on both sides to move forward.”

Ouassila Soum, a 37-year-old French woman of Algerian background who attended the inauguration, said the vandalism left her “with a knot in my stomach.”

“It’s a shame and yet it’s not surprising with the rhetoric of hate and the nauseating current atmosphere,” said Soum, hailing the sculpture as “a symbol of the reconciliation between peoples and civilisations.”

Dubbed “France’s worst enemy” in the late 19th century, Emir Abdelkader is considered one of the founders of modern-day Algeria for his role in mobilising resistance to French rule.

The rebellion he led failed however and he surrendered to French forces who shipped him to France, where he and his family spent four years under guard in Amboise castle.

He later moved to Syria where he won international acclaim for defending Christians during sectarian attacks.

He was awarded the Legion of Honour, France’s highest award for his role in trying to end the persecution.

Stora, the historian behind the idea of the sculpture of Abdelkader, slammed the “ignorance” of those who vandalised it.

“Emir Abdelkader had several lives. He fought France but he was also a friend of France. Those who committed this act know nothing about French history,” he told AFP.

Member comments

  1. It is dreadful this act of vandalism occurred, French authorities should take a harsh approach to such anti social behaviour.

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CRIME

French police bust cross-Channel people-smuggling ring

French police have busted a major people-smuggling ring that has been sending migrants to Britain in dinghies, with more than a dozen boats and 700 life jackets seized in a raid, French authorities said Thursday.

French police bust cross-Channel people-smuggling ring

The ring was run by Iraqi Kurdish migrants and had a logistics hub in Lille, a northern French city about 100 kilmetres (60 miles) from the northern Channel beaches around Calais that are used for crossings.

Three Iraqi men have been charged, along with three French suspects after their arrest on Monday.

Police discovered “a real factory supplying nautical equipment” in Lille, the head of French anti-migration agency Ocriest, Xavier Delrieu, told AFP.

In what was their biggest ever seizure of equipment, they found 13 inflatable boats, 14 outboard engines, 700 life jackets, 100 pumps and 700 litres of fuel, Delrieu said.

The group is suspected of having organised 80 Channel crossings over the summer, of which 50 succeeded, with the smugglers netting around €80,000 for each one.

The arrests came due to intelligence-sharing between authorities in Belgium, Britain, Germany and the Netherlands, who are all trying to crack down on migrants crossing the Channel by boat.

The original tip-off came after a border guard control discovered a group of French youths carrying inflatables from Germany into the Netherlands.

More migrants have crossed the Channel to the UK from northern France so far this year than in the whole of 2021.

So far this year, more than 30,000 people have been detected crossing the Channel to the UK, fresh government figures showed Thursday. On Wednesday alone, the authorities detected another 667 people.

Britain’s new prime minister, Liz Truss, has faced some criticism from other Conservatives and in right-wing media outlets for not pressing for more French action against the crossings when she met President Emmanuel Macron in New York on Tuesday.

Downing Street said the issue did not come up at their talks on the margins of the UN General Assembly, which instead focused on common ground including Ukraine and energy security.

The crossings are among a host of issues that have badly strained Franco-British relations in recent years.

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