France takes baby steps to revive Algerian ties

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Greek Foreign Minister Dendias meets French counterpart Le Drian in Athens
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By John Irish

(Reuters) - France's foreign minister returned from Algeria on Wednesday after holding clear the air talks to revive relations after ties between the two countries collapsed in recent months with a diplomat saying this was a step to "turning the page".

Relations between Paris and its former colony hit new lows in October after when President Emmanuel Macron questioned whether there had been an Algerian nation before French colonial rule and that Algeria's "politico-military system" had rewritten the history of its colonisation by France based on "a hatred of France".

That had come just a month after France drastically reduced visa quotas for citizens coming from North Africa, including Algeria, moves that prompted Algiers to close its airspace to France's military fighting in neighbouring Mali and recall its ambassador.

Wednesday's unannounced trip to Algiers by Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, who held talks with President Abdelmadjid Tebboune, aimed to put everything on the table and open a pathway to renew dialogue, a French diplomatic source told reporters on condition of anonymity.

"Neither of us can allow ourselves to let this degraded situation continue. There's a will to relaunch our relationship and resolve the problems that hurt it," said the source.

"It was a visit that didn't close the complicated period of Franco-Algerian relations that we are in, but a page has been turned."

Paris had already made a first step last month to mend bridges when a French presidential aid said Macron had regretted the controversies and misunderstandings generated from his comments.

The diplomatic source said that while Algiers has not committed to allowing French military flights to resume, a discussion on the issue has now been opened. However, he said that Algiers was now ready to allow emergency evacuation medical flights for French troops from Mali to go through its airspace.

The issue of migration had also been discussed, he said.

(Reporting by John Irish in Doha; Editing by Kevin Liffey and Alistair Bell)

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