Films on Hirak spark Algeria-France crisis

Algiers recalls its ambassador from France after documentaries about Algeria's anti-government protest movement were aired on French public television.

ALGIERS - Algeria said Wednesday it would "immediately" recall its ambassador from France for consultations after documentaries about the North African country's anti-government protest movement were aired on French public television.

The interior ministry said films including two broadcast on Tuesday, while "seemingly spontaneous and under the pretext of freedom of expression, are in fact attacks on the Algerian people and its institutions" including the army.

Citing the "recurrent character" of such programmes on French public TV, it singled out two documentaries broadcast on Tuesday by France 5 and the former colonial power's Parliamentary Channel.

Unprecedented mass protests rocked Algeria early last year to demand the departure of veteran president Abdelaziz Bouteflika, sparked by the ailing 82-year-old's announcement that he would stand for a fifth term.

In April 2019 he resigned, and in December, President Abdelmadjid Tebboune was elected on an official turnout of less than 40 percent. Analysts say participation was considerably lower.

Mass protests against the ruling system only halted when the novel coronavirus arrived in Algeria earlier this year.

Despite the movement suspending demonstrations since mid-March, a crackdown has continued against regime opponents and independent media.

'Malicious and lasting intentions'

The films cited by the Algerian ministry had sparked fierce debates on social media.

"Algeria, my love", aired by France 5, told the story of the Hirak protest movement through the eyes of five Algerians in their 20s from across the country.

Directed by French journalist of Algerian origin Mustapha Kessous, it broke with a number of taboos and highlighted sociocultural divisions driving the movement, triggering heated discussion on social networks.

The second film, "Algeria: the Promises of the Dawn" was broadcast on France's Parliamentary Channel.

In its statement, the Algerian ministry cited what it said were "malicious and lasting intentions on the part of certain circles, which do not wish to see peaceful relations between Algeria and France after 58 years of independence".

France Televisions, which owns France 5, declined to comment on the Algerian announcement on Wednesday evening.

France and Algeria have often had tense ties since Algeria won independence in 1962 after eight years of war.

In early April, the French ambassador to Algeria, Xavier Driencourt, was summoned to the foreign ministry after statements on the France 24 satellite news channel about Chinese medical aid.

Earlier in the year, Tebboune had called for "mutual respect" in Franco-Algerian relations, saying his country "will not accept any interference or tutelage" from abroad.

He was referring to statements made by French President Emmanuel Macron early on in the Hirak protest movement, calling for "a transition of reasonable duration" - remarks seen by Algiers as "interference" in its internal affairs.

In recent weeks, the Algerian government has repeatedly blamed "foreign" NGOs for influencing Algerian media outlets aiming to damage state institutions.

Last month, authorities blocked three news websites that had covered the protests.

Algeria ranks 146 out of 180 countries on RSF's world press freedom index for 2020.