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1962: Ex-general escapes death sentence
A military court in Paris has sentenced the leader of the extremist Secret Army Organisation (OAS) to life imprisonment.

Former general Raoul Salan wept, smiled and then laughed with relief.

It was widely expected he would receive the death penalty for leading an organisation violently opposed to Algerian independence that has carried out acts of terrorism in France in the last few years.

The panel of nine judges at the Palais de Justice had found him guilty of five capital charges, including planning the failed coup in Algiers in April last year.

But to everyone's amazement, the presiding judge announced there were "extenuating circumstances" surrounding the case.

Salan's lawyers hugged him and members of the public in the crowded courtroom sang the Marseillaise or shouted "Algerie Francaise!".

There was no attempt to restore order in the courtroom. The judges withdrew without actually reading out the sentence, which, it later emerged, is life imprisonment.

Plan to kill French president

The "extenuating circumstances" that saved Salan's life have not been made public. But the court must have taken on board the pleas made by Salan's lawyer, M Tixier-Vignacour.

He had painted a picture of a French patriot and respected general fighting for French interests in Algeria.

Since its creation in 1961, the OAS has embarked on a campaign of terrorism in Algeria and France including the attempted assassination in September 1961 of the French President, Charles de Gaulle.

Only three days ago French police said they had foiled another attempt on General de Gaulle's life when they arrested 16 members of the OAS.

Nevertheless, the organisation's activities failed to stop President de Gaulle agreeing a ceasefire with nationalists represented by the Algerian Front de Liberation Nationale (FLN) in March.

This follows a bitter war between the FLN and the French Army that resulted in the collapse of the French government in 1958 and the return of de Gaulle as head of state.

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Former General Raoul Salan
The former general wept with relief when he realised he would not be executed

In Context
Gaullists feared that Raoul Salan's imprisonment might send the wrong message to OAS members - that if caught, they too could claim to be true French patriots and escape the death sentence.

But after his arrest the OAS collapsed. The Evian Agreements between the French government and Ben Bella, leader of pro-independence group the FLN, brought independence to Algeria in July 1962.

French officials estimate the eight years of terrorism and warfare leading to independence cost 350,000 lives - Algerian sources put the figure much higher at 1.5 million.

Raoul Salan was released during a general amnesty in May 1968.

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