Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika was due to arrive in France Wednesday with both countries keen to build bridges, do business and put their previous troubled relations behind them.
The trip marks another stage in Algeria's international rehabilitiation after a brutal eight-year civil war that strained relations with the former colonial power.
Bouteflika's visit, the first in 17 years by an Algerian leader, was postponed by a day due to the death of Syrian leader Hafez Assad, whose funeral was attended by both Bouteflika and French President Jacques Chirac.
The Algerian president will meet both Chirac and prime minister Lionel Jospin, and visit the National Assembly, France's parliament; another sign of improving bilateral relations.
French businesses have been slow to put their money back into Algeria, where diehard Islamic extremists reportedly ambush and kill soldiers, militia and civilians across the country -- often in particularly brutal fashion.
The International Federation Human Rights Leagues (FIDH) has also blamed the Algerian government for the country's problems, in a report issued Tuesday.
The report denounced what it called "the persistence of serious and systematic human rights violations committed by the agents of the different security services in the anti-terrorist struggle."
The security forces tended to execute suspected militants on the spot rather than arresting them, the report added.
But not everyone is staying away. French pharmaceuticals group Laboratories Pierre Fabre announced Tuesday that it was joining up with Novo Nordisk of Denmark and SAIDAL of Algeria to build a factory in Algeria -- a 55-million dollar project.
Others are also keen on getting back to business. French Transport Minister Jean-Claude Gayssot called Tuesday for a rapid agreement allowing Air France to resume flights to Algeria.
These were suspended in late 1994 after three passengers were killed during a hostage crisis at Algiers airport. Security concerns have kept Air France away since then.
France has also reassured Algerians on the issue of visas. It is now processing applications at a faster rate at its consulate in Algiers.
It also plans to open two new consulates in the east and west of the country, possibly even during Bouteflika's visit -- good news for the large Algerian community in France.
The only previous visit by an Algerian president since independence in 1962 was in 1983 when Chadli Bendjedid visited then French President Francois Mitterand, who in turn visited Algiers the following year.
In 1975 President Valery Giscard d'Estaing became the first French head of state to visit independent Algeria, meeting the austere nationalist Houari Boumediene.
Bouteflika, during his four-day visit, will receive a full state reception here - PARIS (AFP)
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