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Wednesday, 17 October, 2001, 16:30 GMT 17:30 UK
Paris marks Algerian protest 'massacre'
Commemorative plaque
The plaque commemorates events 40 years ago
The mayor of Paris has unveiled a controversial plaque in memory of up to 200 Algerians who are said to have been killed when police broke up a demonstration in the city exactly 40 years ago.

Bertrand Delanoe unveiled the memorial near Saint Michel bridge, where at least 30 of the victims are believed to have been thrown into the River Seine, French La Chaine Info television reported.

There are parts of Paris's history which are painful, but which have to be talked about

Mayor Bertrand Delanoe

The plaque reads: "In memory of the numerous Algerians killed during the bloody suppression of the peaceful demonstration on 17 October 1961."

The centre and right-wing opposition on Paris City Council boycotted the ceremony, saying that reviving the issue could cause unrest between the various communities in France, while police unions have also protested about it.

Call for unity

But the socialist mayor said after the ceremony: "There are parts of Paris's history which are painful, but which have to be talked about and which have to be accompanied by acts."

Paris Mayor Bertrand Delanoe
Delanoe says the memorial is not anti-police
He added that the event was not aimed against anyone, especially not the police.

"It is an act which I wanted to carry out soberly, but clearly and in a spirit of unity and fraternity and the time that we are living through is a time for unity," he said.

The far-right National Front described the plaque as "particularly obnoxious at this time of terrorist threats".

Up to 30,000 people attended the 1961 protest, organised by the Algerian National Liberation Front, against a curfew on Algerians in the city. The curfew had been introduced by Paris's prefect of police at the time, Maurice Papon.

Official figures say three people died, but historians put the figure at between 32 and 200.

Demonstrators were rounded up by the police and beaten in metro stations, while others were shot or drowned in the river, but the incidents went virtually unreported at the time.

"Massacre cover up"

Historian and member of the Human Rights League Gilles Manseron said: "A massacre of this size was able to take place in the centre of Paris and was then covered up using a certain number of means, which the state must be able to shed light on."

Pro-Algerian demonstrator
One of the demonstrators arrested by police
The National Liberation Front's armed wing was fighting for Algerian independence from France, and the television said around 30 French policemen had been killed in attacks.

One retired officer, Pierre Francois, told the television: "In a way it was that which led to what happened."

Deputies walk out

After the unveiling, some centre and right-wing deputies walked out of the National Assembly in protest, after the war veterans minister replied to a question by saying the curfew was applied on the basis of physical appearance.

The unveiling follows other recent moves in France to look again at the Algerian civil war.

A general is facing trial after admitting he tortured Algerian prisoners, and last month the country officially commemorated the Harkis - Algerians who fought on the French side, thousands of whom were killed after Algeria became independent.

BBC Monitoring, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.

The BBC's Catherine Guilyardi reports
from Paris, on the unveiling of the plaque
The BBC's Sue Littlemore
"On the 17th October 1961, bloody conflict spilled out on the streets"
See also:

22 Oct 97 | Features
Papon facing dual allegations
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