France will reopen next week its consulate in the northeast Algerian town of Annaba, the French consul-general announced Sunday, after five years in which all Algerians have had to go to Algiers for visas.
The consul general, Jean-Claude Schlumberger, said that the mission in the coastal city, 600 kilometers (370 miles) east of the capital, will reopen "in official fashion" Wednesday, but not immediately to the public.
That step would follow "as soon as the reorganization of different consular services has been completed".
The consulate closed in 1995 when France shut down missions in major cities, apart from Algiers, in its former colony because of a wave of attacks against French nationals blamed on Muslim fundamentalists at war with Algeria's secular government.
All visas have since been delivered from France itself via Algiers, in what Algerian authorities have considered a very restrictive fashion, which has led to friction between the two countries.
Insurgency against the Algerian secular government has claimed at least 140 lives this month alone. In a bid at civil reconciliation, President Abdelaziz Bouteflika last year amnestied many of the guerrillas who took up arms in 1992 and vowed to crack down ruthlessly on the remainder.
When Bouteflika visited Paris in June, the French government promised to make it easier for his compatriots to obtain visas and to apply a 1998 law extending the grounds for residence permits to Algerians, notably when they have family ties.
The Algerian expatriate community is by far the largest in France, while the number of visas given to Algerians rose from 47,000 in 1997 to 150,000 in 1999 and is expected to be higher than 180,000 in 2000.
Separately, the head of the cultural center at the French embassy in Algiers, Alain Freynet, said that the French cultural centre in Annaba would reopen in January next year, while that in Oran in the northwest of the country would open later in 2001.
The French cultural center in Algiers reopened more than a year ago – ALGIERS (AFP)
© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com )