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PARIS: Diplomatic discord between Algeria and France escalated on Sunday after Algiers banned French military planes from its airspace, its latest response to a visa dispute and critical comments from President Emmanuel Macron.

France’s jets regularly fly over the former French colony to reach the Sahel region of West Africa, where its soldiers are helping to fight jihadist insurgents as part of its Operation Barkhane.

“This morning, when we filed the flight plans for two planes, we learned that the Algerians had interrupted the overflights of their territory by French military planes,” said an army spokesman, Colonel Pascal. Ianni.

He said the decision had “slightly impacted” supply flights but “does not affect our operations” in the Sahel.

But the move exacerbated tensions that had already erupted on Saturday when the Algerian government recalled its ambassador to France, citing “unacceptable interference” in its affairs.

According to French and Algerian media, Macron told descendants of figures from the 1954-62 war of independence in Algeria that the country was ruled by a “politico-military system” which had “totally rewritten” its history.

“We see that the Algerian system is tired, it has been weakened by the Hirak”, he added, referring to the pro-democracy movement which forced Abdelaziz Bouteflika to power in 2019 after two decades at the head.

Macron’s office did not deny the reported comments, but said the president was discussing the Algerian war with young French people and answering questions, without giving an official interview.

Ianni said there had been no official notification of the flight ban, and the French Foreign Ministry, contacted by AFP, declined to comment.

Last year, the Algerian government criminalized the dissemination of what it sees as “fake news” that undermines national unity.

Saturday’s ambassador’s recall was the second time he has done so, having taken a similar response in May 2020 after French media aired a documentary on the Hirak movement.

Algerian officials have cracked down on efforts to revive pro-democracy protests, and human rights groups say dozens of people linked to them have been jailed in recent months.

Algiers was also angry last week after France announced it would sharply reduce the number of visas it grants to Algerian, Moroccan and Tunisian citizens.

Paris said the ruling was made necessary by the fact that the former colonies had not done enough to allow the return of illegal migrants to France.

When a French court rejects a person’s visa application, authorities must still obtain a consular laissez-passer from their country of origin in order to forcibly remove them, a document that Paris says Algiers, Rabat and Tunis largely refuse to supply.

Macron reportedly ordered the number of visa deliveries to Algeria and Morocco to be halved from 2020 levels, and Tunisia by a third.

The Algerian Foreign Ministry summoned French Ambassador François Gouyette on Wednesday to make a “formal protest” against the visa decision.


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