Algeria prepared Sunday to bury the remains of 24 resistance fighters repatriated after more than a century and a half, as it marks the 58th anniversary of its independence from France.
The skulls of the fighters, shot and decapitated in the early years of the French occupation, will be buried in the martyrs’ square of El Alia cemetery, the largest in Algeria, in the presence of President Abdelmadjid Tebboune.
The coffins, draped with the national flag, are expected to leave Palace of Culture, where they have been on display since their arrival on Algerian soil on Friday, for the cemetery around 10:00 am (0900 GMT).
Despite stifling heat, a long queue formed on Saturday outside the palace as people paid respects to the national heroes.
Some men and women cried as they gathered in front of the dead, according to TV broadcasts.
“I came as a fighter, as an invalid from the war of liberation, as a citizen who loves his country,” 85-year-old Ali Zelmat, known by his nom de guerre Mokhlas, told AFP.
The remains, once viewed as war trophies by French colonial officers, had been stored since the 19th century in a Paris museum.
Colonized by France for 132 years from 1830 to 1962, Algeria had officially requested the surrender of the skulls and colonial archives in January 2018.
Their restitution has been seen as a sign of a thaw in relations between Algeria and the former colonial power, marked since independence by recurrent tensions.
The French presidency, in a statement to AFP, said the return of the remains was a gesture of “friendship” and part of efforts to “reconcile the memories of the French and Algerian people.”
President Tebboune on Saturday told news channel France 24 that Algeria is waiting for an apology for France’s colonial occupation, saying it was necessary to “face the problem of memory that jeopardize many things in the relations between the two countries.”
“We have already had half-apologies. The next step is needed… we await it,” he said in an interview.
An apology would “make it possible to cool tensions and create a calmer atmosphere for economic and cultural relations,” especially for the more than six million Algerians who live in France, he added.
The repatriation comes amid a global reexamination of the legacy of colonialism, sparked by the May killing of unarmed African American George Floyd by a white police officer and the ensuing mass protests around the world.