ALGIERS: President Emmanuel Macron, visiting Algeria, said on Wednesday he would not be held hostage by France's colonial involvement there and he urged young Algerians to build for the future and not dwell on past "crimes" committed in the independence war.
The relationship is scarred by the trauma of the 1954-1962 war in which the North Africa country broke with France and in which hundreds of thousands of Algerians were killed and torture was used on both sides.
The French leader was in the capital Algiers for talks with President Abdelaziz Bouteflika and senior officials mainly to bolster economic ties.
But many in Algeria have seen the prospect of Macron offering an official apology for the past given his statement earlier this year when he described France's colonial rule as a "crime against humanity".
But Macron seemed likely to disappoint Bouteflika, 80, an old war veteran who fought against French occupation and has been in ill-health since suffering a stroke in 2013.
The 39-year-old Macron seemed unlikely to go any further than his predecessor, Francois Hollande, who sought a more conciliatory tone in dealing with Algeria but also stopped short of apologising.
Instead, Macron's message to young Algerians was not to harbour grudges from the past but look to the future.
"I've already said we need to recognise what we did, but Algeria's youth can't just look to its past. It needs to look forward and see how it will create jobs," Macron said answering questions from people as he walked through downtown Algiers.
"I'm not here to judge those in the past. There have been crimes and there were people that also did good things. Your generation must not allow this. It's not an excuse (to blame the past) for what is happening today," he said.
An inter-governmental forum presided by the countries' prime ministers will take place in Paris on Thursday to discuss how to develop an economic roadmap.
Economic ties between the two countries have marginally progressed since 2012 and France is now behind China as the main partner. Annual trade stands at about 8 billion euros compared with 6.36 billion five years ago.
More than 400,000 Algerians are given visas for France annually, almost twice as many as in 2012.
While walking near the university, young Algerians came out in force, calling out: "Visas, Please!"
But highlighting just how divided opinion remains some others called out: "Go home! We don't want you here."
Franco-Algerian relations are also a sensitive subject in France. Macron angered many at home when he described France's colonial rule as a "crime against humanity" during his presidential campaign.
"The new relationship that I want to build with Algeria and that I propose to Algerians is to build an equal partnership, built on frankness, reciprocity and ambition," he earlier told El Watan newspaper.
Some Algerians disagreed. "Excuse me but France will have to apologise for the martyrs we lost," said a woman who gave her name as Nadia.
Facing high unemployment, low oil prices, austerity and political uncertainty, Algeria's youth is likely to warm to Macron's call to look to the future more than the war veterans.
"There must be no taboos between us. But there has to a be a project for the future and I think the Algerians must build their future from Algeria," Macron said responding to mire questions.
(Writing by John Irish in Paris; Editing by Richard Lough and Richard Balmforth)