French minister says row over Hollande Algeria quip `behind us`

France`s Interior Minister said Monday that a controversy over a joke made by French President Francois Hollande suggesting that Algeria was unsafe, which sparked a diplomatic row with Algiers, "was behind us". 

AFP| Last Updated: Dec 24, 2013, 13:12 PM IST

Paris: France`s Interior Minister said Monday that a controversy over a joke made by French President Francois Hollande suggesting that Algeria was unsafe, which sparked a diplomatic row with Algiers, "was behind us". 

The controversy erupted after Hollande joked during a speech last week to the CRIF Jewish representative group that French Interior Minister Manuel Valls had just returned "safe and sound" from a trip to Algeria, and "that`s already a lot."

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".

"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 about the incident.

"Obviously there was no risk and Francois Hollande`s words were not an expression of any type of risk at all," Valls told reporters in Madrid when asked about the affair.

"This controversy, if there was one, is at any rate behind us," he added.

Algerian Foreign Minister Ramtane Lamamra initially called Hollande`s quip "regrettable" and said it ended the year on a "bad note", but later declared himself satisfied with the French president`s apology.

France and Algeria have close ties but also a troubled history, after Algeria broke from French rule in a 1954-62 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".