Chirac starts historic visit to Algeria
Hundreds of thousands of cheering Algerians Sunday took to the streets of the capital to welcome President Jacques Chirac at the start of the French leader's historic visit.
Crowds lined the 15-kilometre route from the airport to Algiers city center, jamming the footpaths and hanging from balconies, trees and lampposts to wave and clap as Chirac's cortege passed, AFP reported.
Police struggled to keep back youths demonstrating against the threat of a US-led war on Iraq, which France opposes.
Chirac and his peer Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika visited Algiers' Bab El Oued district, where the visitor left flowers in memory of those who died in the flooding of November 2001 which ravaged the picturesque area.
The high point of the three-day trip -- the highest-ranking French visit since the two countries made their peace 41 years ago -- was to be the signing of a declaration of friendship intended to seal a new era of bilateral cooperation.
The visit sought to heal old wounds from the war that won the North African nation independence in 1962 — a war Chirac himself fought in.
"The Algerian war is a painful moment of our common history, that we must not, and cannot ignore," Chirac told Algerian newspapers on the eve of his visit. But the emphasis was on opening a new chapter in relations.
"It is time now to move forward...and build with Algeria a strong, trustful and impartial relationship," he added.
Before his first meeting with his Algerian counterpart, Chirac presented Bouteflika with the silver seal of the last Dey -- or ruling official -- of Algiers, which was taken when French forces captured the city in July 1830 and began to rule the country.
"The return of this symbol of the sovereignty of the Algerian state in my mind seals the reunion between our two countries and our peoples, a new advance in our relations," said Chirac in a short speech.
Chirac was accompanied by his wife Bernadette and a large delegation of ministers, business leaders and artists.
Though Chirac and other presidents have made trips to Algeria, none had the full ceremony of a state visit. French executives from companies such as Airbus accompanied Chirac, part of his efforts to encourage French investment in Algeria. (Albawaba.com)
© 2003 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)
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