“Fifty-one years after this tragedy, I pay homage to the victims, the republic acknowledges the facts with clarity,” Hollande said in a communiqué.
On 17 October 1961 several hundred people were killed when police under the orders of Paris prefect of police Maurice Papon, a former Nazi collaborator, attacked a demonstration against French colonial rule in Algeria.
Hollande, who is to visit Algeria soon, is the first French president to recognise the state’s responsibility for the deaths.
Algerian Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal welcomed the statement, adding that Hollande’s visit would be a test of his preparedness to turn the page of history “without forgetting”.
But Christian Jacob of former president Nicolas Sarkozy’s party, the UMP, claimed that Hollande was “politicising a difficult memory of our history”, insisting that “this declaration is dangerous for the cohesion of our country”.
“Even if there is no question of denying these events of 17 October 1961 or forgetting the victims, it’s intolerable to call the republican police, and along with them the whole republic, into question,” he added.
And the former Front National, Jean-Marie Le Pen, declared that the presidents “do not have the authority to recognise the guilt or innocence of France”.
Historian Benjamin Stora, who is an Algeria specialist, remarked that “many Algerians were waiting” for such a gesture from the Socialist president but it did not go far enough for some.
On social networks some are demanding recognition of all violence by France during the colonial era and the opening of France’s archives in the hope of establishing exactly how many died on the Paris demonstration.