Hollande apologizes for gaffe at CRIF event

Hollande generated an outcry when he said that one of his ministers came back “safe and sound” from Algeria.

Francois Hollande addressing UN 370 (photo credit: REUTERS/Andrew Burton/Pool)
Francois Hollande addressing UN 370
(photo credit: REUTERS/Andrew Burton/Pool)
PARIS – French President François Hollande apologized on Sunday for comments he made to a Jewish audience last week, that many Algerians found offensive.
Hollande generated an outcry in France and Algeria when he declared – at the annual dinner given at the CRIF (Conseil Representatif des Intitutions Juives de France) on December 16, celebrating the Jewish umbrella group’s 70th birthday – that one of his ministers came back “safe and sound” from Algeria.
French media sites reported Monday on the incident.
The president offered “sincere regrets about the interpretation of his words,” adding that he expressed his regrets directly to the president of Algeria, Abdelaziz Bouteflika.
Hollande was talking about the recent trip to Algeria made by his interior minister, Manuel Valls, who went with Prime Minister Jean Marc Ayrault on an official visit.
The French president said jokily: “He came back safe and sound,” and then added: “That is already quite a lot.”
These words roused indignation in Algeria. On Saturday night, Algerian Foreign Minister Ramtane Lamamra declared that this was a “regrettable incident” and damaging to relations between the countries.
The press in Algeria was angry with the French president, although he is popular in the country.
“Hollande is mocking Algeria in front of Jews,” front pages read, and online people expressed anger with the French head of state.
In France, Jean-François Copé, president of the opposition UMP party, was even harder on Hollande, writing on his Twitter account that “the requirements of the role of president does not authorize such ‘out of place’ comments.”
Christian Jacob, leader of the right-wing deputies in the National Assembly, said “it is grotesque. I am not sure if the apologies are not worse than the reality of this little joke. We could hope that in 2014, Hollande drops his role as a little joker to become the president of the republic.”
The website of the French weekly the Nouvel Observateur cited Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius as saying that Hollande is well known for his little jokes, reminding everyone on Monday that Hollande is fond of kidding around.