France defends Algeria over hostage crisis response

PARIS Sun Jan 20, 2013 5:10am EST

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PARIS (Reuters) - France's foreign minister on Sunday defended Algeria's handling of a hostage crisis at a desert gas plant, saying the death toll in an assault on the hostage-takers was "very high" but authorities had faced an "intolerable situation".

Islamist militants seized the remote compound in the Sahara desert before dawn on Wednesday, taking a large number of hostages. Details are still emerging of what happened when the Algerian army launched a final assault to end the siege on Saturday.

"What everyone needs to know is that these terrorists who attacked this gas plant are killers who pillage, rape, plunder and kill. The situation was unbearable," Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said.

"It's easy to say that this or that should have been done. The Algerian authorities took a decision and the toll is very high but I am a bit bothered ... when the impression is given that the Algerians are open to question. They had to deal with terrorists," he told Europe 1 radio in an interview.

Algeria's government said on Sunday the death toll from the gas plant attacked in the Sahara desert would rise from the initial estimate of 23.

(Reporting By Brian Love; Editing by Andrew Heavens)

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