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Sarkozy to Visit Algeria Despite Minister's Anti-Semitic Remarks

French President Nicolas Sarkozy is beginning a three-day visit to Algeria that is already shadowed by controversial remarks by an Algerian minister about Mr. Sarkozy's ties to the Jewish community. From Paris, Lisa Bryant has more on the trip -- and the rocky relations between the two nations.

Members of France's opposition Socialist Party in particular had urged Nicolas Sarkozy to call off his trip to Algiers, after Algeria's veterans affairs minister claimed he had won French elections this year thanks to a so-called "Jewish lobby." Mr. Sarkozy, whose maternal grandfather is Jewish, has marked his departure from previous French leaders by his open support of Israel.

But the remarks have sparked outrage in France and Algerian president Abdelaziz Bouteflika said the comments by his minister in no way reflected the views of the Algerian government. In an interview with Algeria's APS news agency, Mr. Sarkozy essentially said the issue was over and the two countries should look to the future.

But journalist Jean-Pierre Tuquoi, an Algerian expert for France's leading Le Monde newspaper, says that may not be so easy.

In an interview on France-Info radio, Tuquoi said Mr. Sarkozy should have postponed his visit to Algeria a few weeks. He said such anti-Semitic remarks were unprecedented from a high-level Algerian official.

And as Tuquoi noted, the incident is hardly the only issue marring bilateral relations. A 2005 bill passed by the French parliament stressing the positive role of French colonialization sparked protests in Algeria, a French colony until the 1960s. The term was later stripped from the legislation.

New French immigration restrictions and Mr. Sarkozy's tough approach to France's immigrant-heavy suburbs - including his calling youth gangs there "scum" last year - has not warmed Algerians to France's new president.

Nonetheless, the French government hopes to cinch a number of business deals in Algeria, notably in the gas, transportation and telecommunications sectors. Paris and Algiers are also expected to sign a 10-year partnership agreement and a civilian nuclear cooperation deal.

And Mr. Sarkozy hopes to gain Algeria's support for his project to forge a Mediterranean union between southern Europe and northern Africa - although the details of the proposed pact remain unclear.