- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 4, 2003

PARIS, March 4 (UPI) — French President Jacques Chirac ended a triumphant three-day visit to Algeria Tuesday, where he was saluted as a Middle East peacemaker and forger of new ties between France and its former French colony.

Chirac spent his last day in the northwestern city of Oran, where he called for stepped-up democratic reforms in Algeria.

"Make the ideas of liberty, tolerance, justice and fraternity live," the French president told students at Oran University during his Tuesday address.

Chirac also reiterated his mantra of recent weeks — calling for the Iraqi crisis to be resolved diplomatically. War would simply "reinforce the camp of hatred," Chirac said, in remarks reported by French media.

Chirac's visit to Algeria is his second as president. But it is being billed as the first official trip by a French head of state, since Algeria won a bitter war of independence from France, in 1962.

In his address to the Algerian parliament Monday, Chirac called for a remembrance for all the war's victims, and vowed the somber past would not be forgotten.

The French government announced it was earmarking assistance to spruce up cemeteries and other memorial sites, starting with an initial sum of roughly $1 million.

Chirac's visit offered an ideal opportunity to cast the French president as ally of the Arab world — rather than a roadblock in Washington's apparent determination to wage war on Baghdad.

Indeed, Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika suggested Chirac should win the Nobel Peace prize, for his efforts to find a peaceful denouement to the Iraqi standoff. The French president is among some 150 Nobel nominees this year.

Chirac similarly managed to conquer much of the Algerian press. A slew of articles and editorials during his visit ran similar to the daily Errai, which concluded that Chirac's visit afforded the opportunity to "get over the wounds of the past."

But many of the joyous crowds that flocked to greet the French President in Algiers and Oran mixed their calls of "vive Chirac," with "visa, visa."

Algeria's young population — more than 70 percent are under the age of 30 — has been clamoring to escape the economically depressed, and politically repressive North African country.

But France's Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy has said he has no intention of enlarging the visa quotas for Algeria, which tightened during the country's civil war in the 1990s.

"The (visa) solution is certainly not going to come from Jacques Chirac," Algeria's leading El Watan newspaper wrote in its Tuesday editorial. " … The despair of young Algerians, their interminable wait for a visa to go elsewhere, calls on national authorities to address the terrible disaster that forces this country's children to want to flee."

For their part, Algerian opposition parties complained they were virtually ignored by Paris during Chirac's visit.

"Chirac's visit comforts Bouteflika," Djoudi Mameri, national secretary of the Socialist Forces Front, grumbled to France's Le Monde newspaper.

"It's the military hierarchy that has the last word," he added of the shadowy cartel of generals — known as Le Pouvoir — which is believed to have the final say in Algerian politics.

Earlier Tuesday, Chirac visited a recently reopened Michelin factory in the suburbs of Algiers.

French businesses are returning to Algeria, after 10 years of fighting between the military-backed government and Islamist radicals. But Bouteflika has complained the pace of foreign investment is far too slow.

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