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Sarkozy tells Algeria: No apology for the past

ALGIERS (Reuters) - French President Nicolas Sarkozy, due to start a one day visit to Algeria on Tuesday, defended his refusal to apologise for colonial misdeeds saying leaders should focus on the future and not “beat their breasts”.

France's President Nicolas Sarkozy addresses a news conference during a Eurozone finance ministers meeting at the EU Council in Brussels, July 9, 2007. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir

Algeria, France’s largest trading partner in Africa but also its touchiest former overseas possession, has long demanded that France apologise for killings during 132 years of colonial rule which ended with independence in 1962 after an eight year war.

Sarkozy, reiterating a long-held position, told Algeria’s El Watan and El Khabar newspapers: “Young people on either side of the Mediterranean are looking to the future more than the past and what they want are concrete things.”

“They’re not waiting for their leaders to simply drop everything and start mortifying themselves, or to beat their breasts, over the mistakes of the past because, in that case, there’d be lots to do on both sides.”

Sarkozy is due to arrive at about 11 a.m. British time on his first visit outside Europe since his election to the presidency in May. The Maghreb, a zone of French commercial influence, is traditionally the first destination outside Europe for newly elected French presidents.

He will meet President Abdelaziz Bouteflika before flying on to Tunis to meet Tunisian President Zine al Abidine ben Ali.

Sarkozy’s aides say he will explain his as yet vague plan for a Mediterranean Union -- a formal partnership involving southern European countries and their North African neighbours.

Sarkozy told the newspapers he was not against examining the past but this needed time and was a two-way process.

“Certainly there were a lot of ... sufferings and injustices during the 132 years France spent in Algeria. But that wasn’t all there was. I’m for a recognition of the facts but not for repentance, which is a religious notion that has no place in relations between states.”

Some 1.5 million Algerians died in the 1954-1962 war of independence, according to the Algerian government. Many French also perished.

Algeria and France delayed the signing of a friendship treaty, that was due to be approved at the end of 2005, following the passage by France’s National Assembly in February 2005 of a law referring to the “positive role of the French presence overseas, especially in North Africa”.

Former French President Jacques Chirac repealed the law but that did not end the row.

Sarkozy said he had an ambitious roadmap to boost ties in trade, investment, energy, security, movement of people and he was ready to go “further” to build military cooperation and was “very open” to more arms sales to Algeria.