PARIS - France on Sunday played down a diplomatic row with Algeria over a joke made by President Francois Hollande that suggested the north African country was unsafe.
PARIS – France on Sunday played down a diplomatic row with Algeria over a joke made by President Francois Hollande that suggested the north African country was unsafe.
The joke prompted a response from Algerian Foreign Minister Ramtane Lamamra, who called it “regrettable” and said it ended the year on a “bad note”.
A source close to Hollande said Sunday the president had intended no offence and dismissed suggestions of diplomatic tensions.
“It was a mild joke that did not target anyone in any country and had no particular meaning regarding Algeria,” the source said.
During a speech last week to the CRIF Jewish representative group, Hollande joked that Interior Minister Manuel Valls had just returned “safe and sound” from a trip to Algeria. “That’s already a lot,” Hollande added.
The statement sparked widespread outrage and front-page headlines in the Algerian press.
Lamamra said Saturday that the joke did not reflect “the spirit of our relations and of the reality that French delegations and others can see regarding the security situation in Algeria.”
He said he hoped “to be able to find a way before the end of the year to turn the page on this regrettable incident.”
But the source close to Hollande said: “There is no particular tension with Algerian authorities.”
France and Algeria have close ties but also a troubled history, after Algeria broke from French rule in a 1954-1962 war that left some 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 centre-right UMP party said it was “especially clumsy” and “not worthy of a president of France.”