French President Francois Hollande on Sunday expressed his “sincere regrets” over a joke he made suggesting Algeria was unsafe, drawing a line under a brief, but fiery diplomatic spat with the north African country.
Algerian Foreign Minister Ramtane Lamamra initially called the quip “regrettable” and said it ended the year on a “bad note,” but later declared himself satisfied with Hollande’s apology.
The controversy erupted after Hollande joked during a speech last week to a Jewish representative group that French Interior Minister Manuel Valls had just returned “safe and sound” from a trip to Algeria.
“That’s already a lot,” Hollande added.
The comment sparked widespread outrage and front-page headlines in the Algerian press.
In a statement on Sunday, Hollande’s office said his remarks were “the subject of unfounded controversy.”
“Everyone knows the friendly feelings Francois Hollande holds for Algeria and the great respect he has for its people,” the statement said.
“He expresses his sincere regrets for the interpretation of his statement,” it said, adding that Hollande would personally relay his regrets to Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika.
Lamamra’s spokesman, Amar Belani, told the APS news agency that the foreign minister had taken note of Hollande’s statement “with satisfaction.”
He also confirmed that the leaders of both nations would speak by telephone to discuss their countries’ “exceptional partnership.”
France and Algeria have close ties, but also a troubled history after Algeria broke from French rule in a 1954 to 1962 war that left about 1.5 million Algerians dead.
Hollande, who polls show is among the least popular French leaders in modern history, also came under fire at home for the joke.
Far-left leader Jean-Luc Melenchon said the joke was “nauseating,” while Valerie Pecresse of the main opposition center-right UMP party said it was “especially clumsy” and “not worthy of a president of France.”
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