50 years on, Algeria war resurfaces in French election

Is this the country France occupied for 132 years?

Fifty years after losing the Algerian war, France is still suffering fallout from a conflict that shamed its armed forces and fuels bitter political rows even in its latest election battle.
Though French officials are keen to play down the 50th anniversary on March 18 of the ceasefire that ended the conflict, the war's legacy has reared its head in the run-up to France's April-May two-round presidential vote.
Hoping to make gains on the right, President Nicolas Sarkozy has reached out to the community of European-descended Algerians, known as "pieds noirs", who fled the country after the war and still make up a powerful voting bloc.
And on the fringes of the campaign, Left Front candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon has accused far-right National Front founder Jean-Marie Le Pen, whose daughter Marine is running third in the polls, of having "blood up to his elbows" for having served as an intelligence officer during the war.
The anniversary will mark the signing of accords in 1962 with Algeria's National Liberation Front (FLN) that ended a more than seven-year conflict that saw Algerian nationalists rise up against and eventually defeat their French colonial rulers.
The conflict, which left at least 400,000 dead, saw brutal atrocities on both sides, but French forces have particularly been criticised for the systematic use of torture against Algerian fighters and civilians.
With these bitter memories -- amid concerns about present-day relations with Algerian authorities -- French officials say there will be no official ceremonies to mark the anniversary.
"We must avoid fanning the flames," a French diplomat said on condition of anonymity.
"Our concern is to avoid any outbursts in a very volatile context," the diplomat said, noting that as well as the French presidential election, Algeria will be heading to the polls for a legislative vote on May 10.
But that hasn't stopped the war from playing a role in the French vote.
In a speech earlier this month, Sarkozy spoke at length of the "nightmare" endured by pieds noirs when they were forced to choose between "the suitcase or the coffin."
The group and their descendants account for an estimated 3.2 million voters who have traditionally backed either the right or far-right.
Sarkozy, who is trailing Socialist candidate Francois Hollande in the polls, reached out also to voters among the so-called "harkis" -- the up to 200,000 Algerians who fought for the French during the war.
Nearly half of them fled to France after the conflict, but the government initially refused to recognise their right to stay in the country and many ended up in internment camps.
Sarkozy has denounced the "injustice" of their fate and their "abandonment" by French authorities.
The war also came to the fore in a vicious exchange between Melenchon and Le Pen after Marine Le Pen refused to hold a televised debate with the far-left candidate.
After Le Pen senior accused the Communists, part of the coalition backing the Left Front candidate, of having blood on their hands, Melenchon shot back that Le Pen's service in Algeria had left him with "blood up to his elbows ... the blood of a torturer".
Historians said that even after 50 years there is a hunger in France to discuss the war -- a seminal event in French history that for many still resonates.
"At the state level the commemoration may be silent, but on the other hand there is a big demand for historical memory on the part of society, from young generations who want to know what happened," historian Benjamin Stora said.
"While it was France that lost the war in Algeria, paradoxically it is in France where it is much talked about, while in Algeria it is little talked about. Maybe that will come," he said.