French Interior Minister Urges Restoration of Calm in Corsica Ahead of Visit to Riot-Gripped Island

© AFP 2023 / PASCAL POCHARD-CASABIANCAA protester clashes with police in Bastia on March 13, 2022, following a rally in hommage to the pro-independence activist Yvan Colonna who was assaulted in the prison of Arles
A protester clashes with police in Bastia on March 13, 2022, following a rally in hommage to the pro-independence activist Yvan Colonna who was assaulted in the prison of Arles - Sputnik International, 1920, 14.03.2022
Last week violent clashes broke out on the French island of Corsica following rallies in support of jailed pro-independence activist Yvan Colonna, who was attacked by an inmate on 2 March. According to the RMC broadcaster, at least 14 people were injured in Ajaccio, with 26 people sustaining injuries in Bastia, including 23 police officers.
French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin has announced that he will be going to Corsica on Wednesday and Thursday to hold talks with local elected officials after violent clashes broke out on the French island on the weekend.
Darmanin said in a statement that calm must be restored immediately.
About 7,000 people in the northern Corsican town of Bastia had gathered for what initially appeared to be a peaceful protest that spiralled into violence as some 300 hooded participants attacked public buildings and lobbed projectiles at police and state institutions on Sunday.
A public tax office was torched, according to the local prefecture. It added in a statement that 38 were injured, including 24 police officers, as part of a spate of demonstrations in outrage over the attack on jailed Corsican pro-independence activist Yvan Colonna by an inmate on 2 March. French prosecutors have charged Colonna’s alleged assailant, Franck Elong Abe, with attempted murder in association with a terror group.
Abe allegedly confessed to the attack, which he claimed was prompted by Colonna’s “blasphemous statements,” according to France’s top anti-terror prosecutor, Jean-François Ricard, cited by AFP.
Colonna was hospitalised in critical condition, and has been in a coma since then.
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After a five-year manhunt, Colonna was convicted in 2003 for the 1998 assassination of then-French prefect in Corsica, Claude Erignac, and has been serving his sentence in the Toulon-La Farlede detention centre, with authorities rejecting his demand to be transferred to Corsica due to the detainee’s “special status.”
In an attempt to defuse the tensions, French Prime Minister, Jean Castex, on Tuesday revoked Colonna’s status, with the move failing to impact the protests.
After the attack on him in jail, rallies broke out in the main cities of Ajaccio, where the courthouse was set on fire on 9 March, as well as in Calvi and Bastia. The protests descended into violent clashes between police and protestors, who threw stones and flares at law enforcement and state institutions.
On 10 March, Molotov cocktails and projectiles were thrown at police outside a Calvi government building, while cars were set ablaze in downtown Ajaccio.
The attack on Colonna has revived calls for jailed pro-independence activists to be transferred from the French mainland to the island.
The developments come as the first round of the 2022 French presidential election, set for 10 April, is fast approaching.
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Incumbent French President Emmanuel Macron, who is to face strong opposition from his rival Marine Le Pen, head of the right-wing National Rally party, in the presidential election, traveled to Corsica in February for a two-day visit. The trip came days after thousands of local nationalists staged a rally demanding greater autonomy for the Mediterranean island.
Macron’s visit to the island – his first as French president - marked the twentieth anniversary since the assassination of French Prefect Claude Erignac by Yvan Colonna. Macron attended a ceremony honoring the slain politician, held talks with nationalist leaders, Gilles Simeoni and Jean-Guy Talamoni.
Corsica has been calling for constitutional changes that would grant the island a special status with “real autonomy.”
Macron, who previously ruled out making any changes to the constitution, thus effectively rejecting Corsicans’ demand that the Corsican language be given official status, stressed during the visit that there would be "no forgetting and no amnesty" for Colonna.
Emmanuel Macron also outlined his “vision of Corsica”, emphasizing that the island is part of the "unwavering France," and promised to try give it "the future it aspires to, without giving into demands that would take it out of the Republican fold."
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