ALGIERS - France's Foreign Ministry expressed surprise Wednesday about an Algerian government minister's remarks about a "Jewish lobby" being behind French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

The flap comes as Sarkozy is preparing to visit Algeria next week.

Mohamed Cherif Abbas, Algeria's minister for veterans, was quoted Monday in the daily El Khabar as saying that Sarkozy was brought to power by a "Jewish lobby that has a monopoly on French industry." Abbas also mentioned Sarkozy's "roots," an apparent reference to the French president's maternal grandfather, who was Jewish.

French Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Pascale Andreani responded Wednesday: "We are surprised about these remarks that appeared in the press, which do not correspond to the climate of confidence and cooperation in which we are preparing the president's state visit."

She remained upbeat about the visit, however, saying it would show that relations "have progressed in many sectors."

The Dec. 3-5 visit will be Sarkozy's second to Algeria, the former jewel in France's colonial crown, since his election in May.

On Wednesday, Abbas told the Algerian state news agency APS that he "never had the intention .... of attacking the image of a foreign head of state." He did not deny making the comments.

In the original interview, Abbas also demanded that France repent for its past actions in Algeria.

Relations between the two countries have been strained in recent years, particularly since France's parliament passed a law in 2005 noting the "positive" effects of colonialism. The language was later removed, but a long-awaited friendship treaty between the two countries remains stalled.

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