October 17, 1961: A massacre of Algerians in the heart of Paris

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It was one of the darkest days in French history. On October 17, 1961, as the Algerian War of Independence was drawing to a close, the Parisian police brutally repressed a demonstration of French Algerians in the heart of the city.

That night, and over the following days, demonstrators were beaten, killed or thrown into the Seine, where they drowned.

The demonstration was demanded by the French branch of the National Liberation Front (FLN), which fought for the independence of Algeria, against a curfew imposed on Algerians by the Parisian police chief, Maurice Papon.

Police, politicians and the media covered this massacre. It was the “most violent” crackdown on a manifestation in post-war history in Western Europe, noted British historians Jim House and Neil MacMaster in their landmark 2006 study, “Paris 1961 : Algerians, state terror and memory ”.

This remains a delicate subject in France.

For several decades, the official death toll was three. Today, historians agree that at least 48 people were killed on the night of October 17, although many historians believe the death toll is well over 100.

In 1999, the Paris prosecutor’s office officially recognized that a “massacre” had taken place. But on the 60th anniversary of the Paris massacre, many would like President Emmanuel Macron to officially recognize the responsibility of the French state in this atrocity.

Historians are now calling to recognize that the French state was responsible for what happened and to recognize that it was a “racist crime”. Their calls are echoed by survivors and passers-by who witnessed the massacre. FRANCE 24 spoke to some of those people who lived through the horrors of October 17, 1961.


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