|The modern massacre that shames the French:|
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The modern massacre that shames the French: The police slaughter of Algerian immigrants (just 50 years ago) that's been airbrushed from history
By Tony Rennell
22nd October 2011
A solid phalanx of French riot police in blue and black uniforms held their ground at one end of the bridge over the River Seine that connects the western suburb of Neuilly to the centre of Paris.
They were a terrifying sight, fully kitted out for battle and raring to go. At the other end stood another line of police, also armed with batons and rifles.
In between them stood around 100 unarmed and very frightened Algerians. Carrying banners and placards, they had come onto the streets of the French capital with 30,000 others that day to protest at official curbs on their freedom to move about the city.
The date was October 17, 1961 - 50 years ago this month - and the bloodbath that was to unfold that autumn day was to be one of the most barbaric and shaming events in 'civilised' Europe’s post-war history.
(Violence: Algerian protesters were slaughtered by French police on the streets of Paris on October 17, 1961.)
It still casts an uneasy shadow over France’s large population of North African immigrants. For decades, the truth about October 17 was suppressed. Even today, to a certain extent, France is deluded about what it reveals about the dark racist streak in the country’s psyche.
Under the presidency of General Charles de Gaulle, France was the land of liberty, equality and fraternity, yet what lay just beneath the surface was about to be revealed — repression, racism and violence.
The police began to advance, slowly, from either side, but this was no ‘kettling’ exercise designed to contain and disperse the demonstrators. The intention was to beat, maim and kill.
The trapped Algerians — citizens of France, in fact, because Algeria was at that point still a French colony — had nowhere to run.
As the two police lines met, batons were swung, shots were fired, panicking men, women and even children were cut down. Some were hurled, dead or alive, into the waters of the Seine.
All over Paris, similar fatal clashes were taking place as the police used indiscriminate and unfettered force to break up the demonstration.
Algerians arriving from the shanty towns on the city outskirts where they lived were ambushed at Metro stations, herded together and beaten with truncheons. Eye-witnesses saw police cornering Algerians in side streets and clubbing them at will.
At some of Paris’s most famous tourist landmarks — from the Arc de Triomphe to the Place de la Concorde, the Champs Elysees and the Latin Quarter — there were vicious and utterly one-sided street battles.
Hadj Abdel Aziz was organising demonstrators in the Place de la Nation, the same square where, in the French Revolution 200 years earlier, the guillotine had operated. It was now the scene of a new kind of terror.
‘The police shot at people, who fell down wounded or dead,’ he says. ‘Everyone scattered, and I ran to the entrance to the Metro where I was kicked and crushed. I got home covered in blood and broken by my wounds.’
How many Algerians did not make it home is still a matter of conjecture and dispute. The official police figure that day was an impossible three dead — two Algerians shot and one, they said, who had died from a heart attack. Algerian sources went to the other extreme, claiming 300 deaths.
The exact number has never been pinned down. In so far as there is any consensus even now on the October 17 death toll, it is only that anywhere between 32 and 200 were killed.
Disgrace: The event still casts an uneasy shadow over France's large population of North African immigrants - and for decades, the truth about October 17 was suppressed
What is certain is that for weeks after, bodies were washed up on the banks of the river. According to the Left-wing writer Simone de Beauvoir: ‘Corpses were found hanging in the Bois de Boulogne and others, disfigured and mutilated, in the Seine.’
Some of the police involved were so disgusted at their own actions that, many years later, they confessed to taking part in a hate crime.
‘For two hours we hunted and shot anything that moved,’ says one, named Raoul Letard. ‘We were waging a war and our adversary was the Algerians.’
So what precisely was it that sparked off events that left the streets of Paris and the river Seine running with blood?
In Algeria, France’s North African colony since 1830, separatists had been fighting a bloody terrorist war for independence for seven years, and were on the verge of winning.
The 200,000-strong Algerian community living and working in France at that time were considered by the security forces to be a suspicious and dangerous fifth column.
Some of the police involved were so disgusted at their own actions that, many years later, they confessed to taking part in a hate crime. The violence of the fighting in Africa had spread on to the streets of France as supporters of the two rival factions vying for power in Algeria clashed openly in Paris.
When they weren’t killing each other, they targeted policemen with bullets and bombs.
Onto the scene came one of the most controversial figures in modern French politics — Maurice Papon.
He had been a leading figure in the French police force that collaborated with the Germans in World War II. (In 1998 he would be convicted of having rounded up Jews to send to Auschwitz, jailed for ten years and disgraced.)
But in the aftermath of the war, he and many other collaborators like him had been accepted back into the fold.
He became a police chief in Algeria, and in dealing with the guerrilla forces of the Algerian National Liberation Front, the FLN, he built a fearsome reputation for brutality, summary executions and torture.
And then he was appointed prefect of police in Paris to crack down on any trouble from Algerians in the city.
The lugubrious Papon — the sort of man who never used a nutcracker when a sledgehammer would do — immediately set out his stall by recruiting a special police force of former soldiers who had fought for France in Algeria and had no love for its people.
He gave them free rein to stop and search, detain without charge and torture French-based members of the FLN.
De Gaulle dismissed the killings as 'a matter of secondary importance', and in 1968 issued an amnesty to all police personnel for crimes committed during the war with Algeria.
In essence, he unleashed a dirty war against the entire Algerian community, all of whom he considered to be suspects.
But the FLN was not about to be cowed. With diplomatic negotiations underway to bring the war in Algeria to an end and give the country its independence, it attempted to hurry things along by stepping up terror attacks on the streets of Paris.
Twenty policemen were killed, half of them in the first two weeks of October 1961.
At one emotion-charged funeral, Papon promised retaliation. ‘For each blow received, we’ll respond with 10,’ he told them. He then announced a curfew on the so-called ‘French Muslims of Algeria’. They were banned from the streets between 8.30pm and 5.30am.
The FLN hit back with mass demonstration, ruthlessly using death threats to coerce some of its more reluctant supporters to join in.
Cannily it gave the order that they were to go on to the streets totally unarmed, with not even a penknife that might be seen as an offensive weapon and invite retaliation. Organisers even frisked those taking part to make sure they weren’t carrying hidden weapons.
Some demonstrators were arrested and taken to police headquarters near Notre Dame, where they were confined in a courtyard and battered to death. Police handing out the beatings first removed the identification numbers from their uniforms. Papon flooded Paris with 7,000 police, possibly more. He wound them up to a pitch of fury and then unleashed them with the promise they would never be called to account for anything they did that day.
‘I give you my word that you will be covered,’ he told them.
The stage was set for a vindictive act of vengeance that would quickly descend into mass murder.
Nor was it just in the streets that violence took place. Some demonstrators were arrested and taken to police headquarters near Notre Dame, where they were confined in a courtyard and battered to death.
Police handing out the beatings first removed the identification numbers from their uniforms.
Senior officers — quite possibly even Papon himself — watched the brutality, ignoring pleas by shocked officers to halt the killing.
Meanwhile, as many as 14,000 other Algerians were being rounded up and detained in internment centres. There, more harsh treatment was meted out with rifle butts and pick handles.
‘They tortured us with hot iron rods to learn the names of our leaders. At night they woke us with jets of water,’ says one man.
He recalled having to go through a gauntlet of baton-wielding riot police to get to the toilets. ‘We preferred to pee in our pants.’
A cover-up began as soon as the mayhem on the streets subsided, with Papon maintaining his men had fired only after they themselves had been shot at. He claimed that any bodies in the street were the result of in-fighting among Algerians themselves. The Paris newspapers generally accepted this explanation and dug no deeper.
The Communist Party spoke out against what had happened, as did isolated groups and some individuals in the Paris council and the national government.
It was not until the Eighties suspicions about what happened on the terrible day rose to the surface and investigations began
But since cameras had been confiscated from photographers who filmed incidents that did not fit the official story and newspaper accounts were censored, there was no hard evidence to go on.
There was no wave of revulsion that could disturb the French government’s position. The waters closed over the entire incident.
Then, when the Algerian war ended in a truce just months later in March 1962 and Algeria won its independence, the hate-filled events of October 17, 1961, seemed redundant — best glossed over by all sides in the spirit of co-operation between France and the new Algerian government.
De Gaulle dismissed the killings as ‘a matter of secondary importance’, and in 1968 issued an amnesty to all police personnel for crimes committed during the war with Algeria. No one was ever brought to account, and silence about what had happened remained unbroken for two decades.
Now, 50 years on, it is finally clear that the French police force inflicted grotesque, racially-motivated violence on a community whose actions in no way merited the extreme punishment handed out to them.It was not until the Eighties that suspicions about what happened on that terrible day rose to the surface and investigations began.
In 1991, a book reconstructing the day in detail put the number of Algerian deaths at 200 and used the word ‘massacre’.
Papon sued the author for libel, but lost the case after being forced to admit the body count he had put at three was at least ten times that figure.
France and the world finally opened their eyes to what had happened on the Neuilly Bridge, the Place de la Nation and all the other dark spots in the so-called City of Light.
Now, 50 years on, it is finally clear that the French police force inflicted grotesque, racially- motivated violence on a community whose actions in no way merited the extreme punishment handed out to them.
Some believe that the massacre was the result of confused government policies towards North Africans in French society, which simultaneously tried to promote integration by offering them special assistance in health, education and jobs — while actively stoking up resentment against them.
The result of these mixed messages was an eruption of killing and a rift between the communities that has not healed to this day. Racism is rife in France and attacks on North Africans remain sickeningly commonplace.
They tend to live on blighted housing estates, the successors of the earlier shanty towns. Even today, these estates are regularly subjected to curfews, and paramilitary forces move in to deal with any disturbances.
French Algerians report they are made to feel unwelcome in the city centre and Paris’s tourist spots.
France seems at last to be coming to terms with the shameful events of October 17, which is an official day of remembrance. But whether it has really learned any lessons from the brutal attacks on the Neuilly Bridge is another matter.
Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2052098/The-modern-massacre-shames-French-The-police-slaughter-Algerian-immigrants-just-50-years-ago-thats-airbrushed-history.html#ixzz1hJ26z4za
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