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France marks Algerian war dead amid controversy over date

media Harkis demonstration Harkis demonstration AFP/Anne Christine Poujoulat

France on Tuesday marked its first national day of remembrance for the victims of the war that put an end to its colonial rule of Algeria. But not everyone is happy with the choice of date.

François Hollande's government decided late last year to hold the day on the 51st anniversary of the Evian accords that marked an official ceasefire between Paris and the independence movement, the National Liberation Front (FLN).

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Not all groups are happy with the date, including the harkis, Muslim Algerians who fought for France and who claim French authorities abandoned them after the accords.

Between 30,000 and 150,000 harkis are estimated to have been killed by the FLN or by lynch mobs.

Benjamin Stora, professor of Algerian history with the University of Paris, says tensions surrounding the end of the war are not resolved with today's memorial.

"The date marking the end of the Algerian war has always been problematic," he points out. "Former soldiers have always claimed 19 March because it corresponds to the signing of the Evian accords. But the pieds noirs [settlers of European descent] and harkis did not want this date because of the violent acts that followed, in particular the kidnappings of Europeans in Oran and the massacres of the harkis."

The Socialist government decided on 19 March 19 but acknowledged that there are other dates yet to be recognised, Stora says. "So, today's memorial is a compromise."

Between six and seven million people of Algerian descent are living in France.

Of them, the harkis represent about 800,000.

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