Hollande eyes new chapter in Franco-African relations

* Socialist leader sees colonial era as historical "mistake"

* Aims to promote democcracy in Africa

PARIS, Oct 11 (Reuters) - President Francois Hollande saidon the eve of his first state visit to Africa that he wanted toopen a new chapter in France's relations with former coloniesand would denounce a period of colonisation as a historical"mistake".

Hollande, who heads to the Democratic Republic of Congo onSaturday for a gathering of French-speaking nations, haspromised to promote democracy in Africa and break with an era ofcollusion between French and autocratic African leaders.

He is travelling to Kinshasa to meet leaders from more than70 francophone countries, many of them African, without anycompany executives in his entourage - a shift from thebusiness-focused trips of conservative predecessor NicolasSarkozy.

"Times have changed," Hollande said on Thursday in aninterview with three public broadcasters. "We are defining a newpolicy. France now wants to respect its counterparts at the sametime as it tells them the truth."

Illustrating the pledge, Hollande pressured the summit'shost by saying democracy in Congo, a former Belgian colony, andits rights record were "totally unacceptable" - a swipe at the2011 election that saw President Joseph Kabila re-elected to asecond term.

The statement marked a change in tone from the Sarkozy era,when France often kept silent about electoral fraud.

Sarkozy sparked outrage in much of French-speaking Africa in2007 when he suggested to an audience in Dakar that thecontinent had failed to embrace progress and made uncriticalallusions to colonialism.

"I am not giving a speech to erase a precedent, I am givinga speech to write a new page with Africa, because France andAfrica have historical ties," Hollande said.

"But (there are) also mistakes that need to be recalled,which is the case with colonisation and the slave trade."

France's colonial empire, founded in the 16th century,reached a peak in the early 20th when it covered nearly all ofWest Africa. The colonial era ended in 1962 when Algeria, whichwas not considered a colony but a part of metropolitan France,won its independence following a long guerrilla war.

However, France continued for decades to exert direct andindirect influence over ex-colonies through a murky system ofpatronage known as "Francafrique", which Hollande has promisedto eradicate.

Hollande will also use the trip to defend a U.N. SecurityCouncil resolution allowing African powers to intervene in Mali,where Islamist militants have taken land covering the two thirdsof the country's north.

"I think that there will be a desire at the Security Councilto launch this intervention force but, I must be very clear,it's up to the Africans to decide," he said.

(Reporting by Nicholas Vinocur; editing by Mark Heinrich)

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