French President Francois Hollande has refused to apologize over France's colonial past in Algeria, as he begins a two-day trip to the oil- and gas-rich nation.
The Socialist leader, traveling with a delegation that includes about 30 French company bosses, had hoped to sign business deals, according to a report on the AllAfrica website.
Kad Merad, an Algerian-born actor who is extremely popular in France, has joined the delegation.
However, "the shadow of 132 years of colonization hangs over the visit," even though Algeria this year celebrated 50 years of independence from France.
Hundreds of thousands of Algerians were killed in the 1954-1962 Algerian war for independence.
Hollande's predecessor Nicolas Sarkozy had abrasive relations with Algiers, and according to the Financial Times Hollande is being cast "almost in the role of supplicant" in order to turn a page in relations.
Reuters quoted Hollande as saying after a meeting Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika:
"I want to define with Algeria a strategic partnership on an equal-to-equal basis. I am not here to repent or apologize, I am here to tell the truth."
Algeria's recent economic performance — its economy is booming — compared with that of France, has made some Algerians suspicious of his intent, however.
The FT quoted Mohamed Baghali, editor-in-chief of the Algiers daily el Khabar, as saying:
"There is a big financial crisis in Europe and especially in France, and he is coming here to find economic solutions. France, like many other European countries, is on the verge of bankruptcy and they need our help to boost their economy, and that’s what Mr Hollande’s visit is going to be about."
Indeed, the FT adds that Hollande is hoping to "reverse a trend" that has seen Algeria fostering relations with countries like China, threatening France’s position as biggest trade partner.
Hollande has announced the construction of a Renault factory at Oran to make 75,000 vehicles a year destined for all of Africa, while PSA Peugeot Citroën is also looking to move into production in the region, the FT wrote.
The Associated Press cited Hollande as saying he wanted to open a new era with Algeria and form a strategic partnership among equals — a chance not only turn a page but "to write so many others."
He is to meet with President Abdelaziz Bouteflika and address the Algerian parliament and university students.
He is also expected to discuss security in the region, encouraging support for UN-backed plans for military intervention in northern Mali, where Al Qaeda-linked militants and Tuareg separatists are battling west African troops.
France had seven of its nationals held hostage by Islamist groups in the region, which it worries could become a base for attacks in France itself.