Paris: A tribute march was organised on Sunday in Paris for the 60th anniversary of the bloody police crackdown on a protest by Algerians in the French capital, during the final year of their country’s independence war with its colonial power.
The commemoration comes after French President Macron acknowledged that “crimes” committed on Oct. 17, 1961 — which authorities have sought to cover up for decades — were “inexcusable for the Republic.”
Protesters on that day had answered a call for a peaceful demonstration by the French branch of the National Liberation Front, which was fighting for Algerian independence, against a discriminatory nighttime curfew targeting Algerians in the Paris region.
“The repression was brutal, violent, bloody” under the orders of Paris police chief Maurice Papon, Macron said in a statement released Saturday. About 12,000 Algerians were arrested and dozens were killed, “their bodies thrown into the Seine River,” the statement said.
Historians say at least 120 protesters died, some shot and some drowned, according to Macron’s office. The exact number has never been established as archives remain partially closed.
Papon later became the highest-ranking Frenchman convicted of complicity in crimes against humanity for his role in deporting Jews during World War II.
Human rights and anti-racism groups and Algerian associations in France staged a tribute march in Paris on Sunday afternoon. They called on authorities to further recognise the French state’s responsibilities in the “tragedies and horrors” related to Algeria’s independence war and to further open up archives.
Fabrice Riceputi, a historian who recently published a book “Here, we drowned the Algerians” about the event, told the Associated Press “it’s a late colonial massacre, we’re a few months away from Algerian independence, but (it’s) also a starting point in the history of the Republic’s treatment of immigrants.”
The massacre “speaks of a moment when unquestionably there was state racism, of colonialism,” he said.
Riceputi described the bloodshed as “the climax of police harassment and violence against the Algerians in the Parisian region” that had started the month before, including police raids in slum areas where Algerians were living on the outskirts of Paris, with some homes being destroyed and corpses found in the Seine even before the protest day. “It’s the culmination of a period of terror,” he said.
Activists want the massacre to be recognised as “state crime” committed by police, the opening of a memorial site, and reparations, amid other demands.
The Movement against racism and for friendship between people, or MRAP, deplored that Macron’s statement did not include “any word about the context of the Algeria war, any word on colonialism, nothing about archives... even less about reparation.”
Earlier Sunday, Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo attended a tribute ceremony at the Saint-Michel bridge, in the capital’s city centre.
Macron paid tribute to victims on Saturday at the Bezons bridge over the Seine River in the northwest of Paris. He was the first president to attend a commemoration event for the massacre.
Earlier this year, he announced a decision to speed up the declassification of secret documents related to Algeria’s 1954-62 war of independence from France. The new procedure was introduced in August, Macron’s office said.
The move was part of a series of steps taken by Macron to address France’s brutal history with Algeria, which had been under French rule for 132 years until its independence in 1962.
In 2018, Macron formally recognised the responsibility of the French state in the 1957 death of a dissident in Algeria, Maurice Audin, admitting for the first time the French military’s use of systematic torture during the war.