The fifteen European countries of the border-control free zone known as the Schengen area have agreed they no longer need to consult each other before issuing visas to Algerians, a move expected to cut the waiting time from 15 days currently to 1-3 days, France's interior minister, Nicolas Sarkozy, has announced.
"France has, regarding visas, lifted the prior consultation, along with other Schengen countries," Sarkozy said late on Monday after meeting with his Algeria's interior minister, Yazid Zerhouni.
Sarkozy, seen as a conservative front-runner in next year's presidential elections, had spearheaded efforts to lift the current visa restrictions with the Schengen area, largely because France - Algeria's former coloniser - handles over three-quarters of Algerian applications to the zone.
The Schengen zone countries - Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Italy, Greece, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain and Sweden - agreed in 1995 they would consult each other before issuing visas to Algerians. This was at the height of the Islamist revolt in Algeria, known as the 'Fitna', after the military-backed regime in 1992 cancelled elections that the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) was poised to win.
France's national police chief, Michel Gaudin, was quoted as saying Algerian officials had agreed to hand over a list with the names of detainees released from prison in president Abdelaziz Bouteflika's partial amnesty for Islamist militants involved in the 13-year-long Fitna, during which 150,000 were reported to have been killed and thousands to have disappeared.
A total 30 people on the list of detainees released from jail in Algeria under the amnesty at national reconciliation - have been expelled from France, Gaudin was quoted as saying.
Sarkozy was in the Algerian capital for two days of talks on terrorism and illegal immigration. During his visit, Algeria's prime minister, Abdelaziz Belkhadem, demanded that France "acknowlege the crimes committed in Algeria" during France's 1830-1962 colonial rule.
Algerian immigrants form the largest group among France's five million Muslims - around 35 percent. Some 250,000 Algerians requested visas to France in 2005, of which about 60 percent of applications were accepted, according to the French interior ministry.