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May 21, 2022
French government floats Corsican ‘autonomy’ as unrest jolts election campaign
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French government floats Corsican ‘autonomy’ as unrest jolts election campaign

President Emmanuel Macron’s government has said it is open to discussing “autonomy” for Corsica in a bid to calm days of violent protests on the Mediterranean island with just weeks to go before France’s presidential election.

Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin dropped the A-word as he set off for a two-day visit to Corsica on Wednesday, two weeks after a violent assault on a jailed Corsican nationalist triggered a wave of unrest on the île de Beauté (island of beauty).

“We are ready to go as far as autonomy. There you go, the word has been said,” Darmanin told regional newspaper Corse Matin, treading ground that has long been regarded as taboo in France’s highly centralised republic.

“The talks (on autonomy) will necessarily be long and difficult,” he later told BFMTV, adding that, whatever the result, Corsica’s “future is fully within the French republic”.

Why do Corsicans want greater autonomy from France?

With Macron seeking re-election next month, the offer from France’s “top cop” was always bound to come under close scrutiny from rivals for the presidency, some of whom decried an opportunistic move. 

Valérie Pécresse, the candidate for the conservative Les Républicains, blasted the president for “giving in to violence”, while far-right rival Marine Le Pen accused him of “cynical clientelism”. “Corsica must remain French,” she added.

“As always with this government, things need to turn ugly before it starts looking for solutions,” lamented Green Party nominee Yannick Jadot, who, along with most left-wing candidates, spoke in favour of autonomy for the Mediterranean island.

‘Statu francese assassinu’Darmanin’s visit follows repeated outbreaks of violence at protests triggered by a savage prison attack on Yvan Colonna, one of a group of Corsican nationalists jailed for the 1998 murder of Corsica’s prefect, the island’s top official, Claude Erignac. 

The interior minister said the convicted killer had been attacked by a jihadist fellow inmate after reportedly making “blasphemous” comments at their jail in Arles, in southern France. He described the assault, which left Colonna in a coma, as “clearly a terrorist act”.

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