Confront our colonial past, urges Sarkozy

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Nicolas Sarkozy, France's populist interior minister, yesterday attempted to defuse a furious row over the country's colonial past saying France must confront its history to avoid a "repetition of evil" but should refrain from an "excess of repentance".

In an article in Le Journal du Dimanche, Mr Sarkozy said France must acknowledge the legitimate suffering of the victims of its colonial past. However, the frontrunner in the 2007 presidential election race also condemned those who wanted "to apologise for being French".

"France is a great country because she has a great history. Let us understand that without complacency, but also without an excess of repentance," he wrote.

Last week, Mr Sarkozy was forced to postpone a trip to the French Caribbean after local politicians expressed their anger about a section of a law adopted by the interior minister's party acknowledging the "positive role" of the French colonial presence overseas, particularly in north Africa.

On Friday, President Jacques Chirac announced the creation of an official commission, consisting of historians and politicians from several parties, to "evaluate parliament's activities in the fields of memory and history".

"There is no official history in the French republic. It is not up to the law to write history," he said. "Emotions should calm down now."

The commission is due to report within three months.

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