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Sahara

Day 94: Algiers

Algiers, Algeria 
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Light and darkness on the roof of the Villa Suzini. Behind me, sunlight across the city explains why the French called it Alger La Blanche, the White City. Below me, in the cellars of this pretty Moorish villa, Algerians who resisted French rule were beaten, tortured and often killed during the independance struggle in the 1950s.
Michael Palin - SaharaThe hotel, with its rambling mix of European and Moorish styles, looks much the same as it does in the century-old black and white photos on its walls. But one thing has changed. There is no equivalent now of the crowd of smiling, heavily dressed foreigners photographed taking cocktails under wide umbrellas. Neither the British, nor anyone else for that matter, come to Algiers these days to enjoy the balmy warmth of a Mediterranean winter. It is, as Eamonn is telling me, just too dangerous.

Sitting together on a bench between two ornamental columns, like characters out of a John Le Carré novel, Eamonn tells me the grim reality of present-day Algeria. An estimated 100,000 people have lost their lives in the civil war, which began ten years ago when the government cancelled an election that a radical Islamic party as poised to win. Since 1993, all foreigners have been under a fatwah, a sentence of death, and over 100 have been killed. As the aim of the rebels is to cause maximum embarrassment to the government, those with a high public profile are particularly at risk. I'm not exactly Tom Cruise, but I appreciate Eamonn paying me the compliment of scaring me stiff.

Four members of the SPS, the Service de Protection Spéciale, will be with me every time I leave the hotel. With Eamonn, that's five, so we've almost doubled our crew already. And that's not all. In certain high-risk areas like the casbah, another six members of the SPS will be drafted and men from the Commissionaire de Police of the casbah, the Casbah Cops as Eamonn calls them, will throw a cordon sanitaire around us.

Having never had a cordon sanitaire thrown anywhere near me before, I suppose I should feel faintly flattered, but I feel bound to ask Eamonn if it's all absolutely necessary.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Sahara
  • Day: 94
  • Country/sea: Algeria
  • Place: Algiers
  • Book page no: 242

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