- The Washington Times - Monday, March 3, 2003

ALGIERS (AP) Hundreds of thousands of Algerians poured into the streets yesterday to welcome Jacques Chirac, the first French president to make a state visit to this former French colony since its independence four decades ago.
Mr. Chirac's three-day trip was intended to support the North African nation's efforts to end a bloody Islamic insurgency. It also sought to heal wounds from the war that won Algeria independence in 1962. Mr. Chirac fought in that war.
But the warmth of the reception had more to do with Mr. Chirac's outspoken resistance to U.S. plans for military action in Iraq, demonstrators said.
In the capital, Algiers, well-wishers held posters with Mr. Chirac's portrait, and others threw confetti from balconies as he shook hands with the crowd. Entwined French and Algerian flags hung from apartment buildings, and images of Mr. Chirac and Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika decorated lampposts.
Mr. Chirac is a leading proponent of disarming Iraq peacefully, a stance that has strained French ties with the United States and prompted splits in NATO and the European Union.
Iraq, terrorism and Middle East violence will be discussed during Mr. Chirac's meetings with Algerian leaders, though the official purpose is to improve ties.
Yesterday, Mr. Chirac received the keys to the capital, visited a neighborhood hit by deadly floods in 2001 and was to lay a wreath at a monument for Algerians who fought against France.
Algeria's independence devastated France, which considered the colony as much a part of its culture and history as Normandy or Provence. More than 1 million French fled Algeria and took refuge in France after the war ended 132 years of colonial rule.
"More than 40 years have passed" since the war, Mr. Chirac said. "The time has come to face the future serenely with the friendship and the confidence we have rediscovered."
Mr. Chirac wants to make it easier for Algerians to stay in France and vice versa. Many Algerians have family members in France, and some see French visas as the only escape from poverty and fear. There were chants of "visas, visas," during Mr. Chirac's stroll.
Though Mr. 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 SAS accompanied Mr. Chirac as part of his efforts to encourage French investment in Algeria.
Many businesses pulled out of Algeria in the 1990s at the peak of a brutal Islamic insurgency in which rebels seek to topple the government and set up an Islamic state.
An estimated 120,000 people have been killed in the insurgency, in which rebels have slit victim's throats and sprayed machine-gun fire at people stopped at roadblocks.

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