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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Algeria Gives Chirac a Hero's Welcome

ALGIERS, Algeria -- French President Jacques Chirac has gotten a hero's welcome in Algeria, with hundreds of thousands of admirers cheering and showering him with confetti to celebrate their country's new, stronger ties with its one-time colonial ruler.

Chirac's three-day trip, which started Sunday, was the first full-fledged state visit by a French president since Algeria won independence from France in 1962. It aspires to build new partnerships and heal old wounds. Chirac himself served in the army that fought a brutal, unsuccessful war to keep Algeria in French hands.

That conflict seemed forgotten during the street party in Algiers, where people waved photos of Chirac and Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika.

For three days, Chirac is shifting his concentration away from Iraq, the issue that has dominated his schedule for months as he leads efforts to slow the U.S. drive to war.

While his stance fueled splits in the European Union and NATO, it boosted his popularity in predominantly Muslim Algeria.

Chirac's visit also showed support for Algeria's efforts to end a decadelong insurgency by Islamic militants.

Rebels trying to topple the government and set up an Islamic state have led a campaign of violence, slitting throats and spraying machine gun fire at roadblocks. In 1996, they killed seven French Trappist monks living quietly in the foothills of the Atlas Mountains.

An estimated 120,000 people have died in the violence, which erupted in 1992 after the army canceled elections that a Muslim fundamentalist party was poised to win.

Bouteflika tried to reconcile the nation, offering amnesty to rebels willing to turn in their guns. But many Algerians live in terror with the knowledge that pardoned former insurgents live among them. Violence persists, though it has diminished.

Some French companies have returned to Algeria after fleeing during the worst violence of the 1990s. Chirac is encouraging them, and he invited executives from companies including Airbus and TotalFinaElf for the trip.

The French president on Sunday laid flowers at a monument for the Algerians who fought against France during the independence war -- a powerful symbol of healing.

The war split France in two. Before independence, Algeria was officially as much a part of France as Normandy or Provence. More than 1 million French people who lived there fled their homes and took refuge in France after the war ended 132 years of colonial rule.

Chirac described the countries' mutual history as "sometimes cruel, tragic and painful."

"More than 40 years have passed" since the war, he said. "The time has come to face the future serenely with the friendship and the confidence we have rediscovered."

Chirac wants to make it easier for Algerians to stay in France, and vice versa. Many Algerians have family members in France, and some see French visas as the only escape from poverty and fear. There were chants of "Visas! Visas!" during Chirac's stroll.

The countries also plan stronger partnerships in business, technology and education.