Algerian press defends army action in hostage crisis

A car drives past the gas plant on the outskirts of In Amenas, in Algeria, where militants took dozens of foreign workers hostage (18 January 2013).
Image caption The Algerian army operation at the gas plant apparently surprised foreign governments

Newspapers in Algeria have come out in strong praise of their army's actions in the hostage crisis at the In Amenas gas plant, in which dozens of captives are now thought to have died.

In an editorial, the country's largest daily Echourouk says: "Algerians and all free people deserve to be proud of Algeria's stand. God bless Algeria!"

The paper also praises the country's reported refusal of a US offer of a joint investigation as a display of patriotic independence.

In the same paper, commentator Mohammed Yacoubi says that, despite "negative aspects" in the way the crisis was dealt with and its "sad" end, the military did the right thing in confronting the militants, despite the risk for hostages.

"I was proud to see my country strike with an iron fist in defence of its national sovereignty," he says.

"The Algerian army gave a good example when it put the interest of Algeria above the interests of all other countries, which wanted to save their nationals at any cost, even if that cost was to bring Algeria again face to face with terrorism."

The Algerian military's intervention apparently came as a surprise to some of the governments whose nationals were being held hostage.

'Viva Algeria!'

Commentators in Algeria's French-language press are strongly supportive of the operation, but criticise what they regard as the failure of authorities, and especially the president, to inform the public about the crisis.

As a result, Nadjia Bouaricha writes in El Watan, "national public opinion has been the hostage of foreign media outlets distilling snippets of information gleaned from this or that news agency or this or that often doubtful source".

"And the height of contempt was and still is the silence of the president," she adds. "All of Algeria was holding its breath, fearing the worst, while the president refrained from saying anything. It is as if there were no president in Algeria."

In Liberte, Salim Koudil praises the way Algerians on Facebook and other social networks filled the information vacuum left by the government.

"Most web users agreed with Algeria's sovereign decision," Mr Koudil adds. "Everybody chipped in with their 'One, two, three, viva Algeria!' or 'Long live Algeria, long live the People's National Army'."

'Impossible choices'

In France, press commentators voice dismay at the high death toll, and say it vindicates President Hollande's decision to intervene against militants who have taken over the north of Mali, on Algeria's southern border.

"The figures will be terrible. And the terrorists' logic of separating Europeans and Arabs, Christians and Muslims, will become clearer when the grim count is made," Yves Harte writes in the regional daily Sud Ouest.

"But the attack cannot be reduced to studying this bloody toll. It is an act of war, as Francois Hollande has pointed out."

In the Catholic La Croix, Dominique Quinio says such hostage-takings are effective in posing "impossible choices" for the authorities: "Does agreeing to negotiate, at least openly, not amount to an invitation to take new prisoners for more deals?"

He says unity is the best answer, and voices regret that other Western countries have taken a "back-seat" role on Mali.

It is not known to what extent - if at all - the hostage-taking is connected with the French intervention in Mali, but Yaya Sidibe, writing in Mali's 22 Septembre daily clearly believes it is.

The article argues that the disaster could finally persuade Algeria to overcome its reluctance to join in the fight against what it calls "narco-jihadists" in Mali's north.

"With this new turn, Algeria, which has up to now played the isolationism card, will henceforth be forced to give up its overly cautious approach and involve itself in a merciless fight against narco-jihadists," the commentator says.

The editorial of another Malian paper, Le Pretoire, agrees, and voices the hope that the US will also change its mind on remaining on the sidelines in Mali.

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