Top Corsican lawyer gunned down by hitman

Antoine Sollacaro, one of Corsica's most prominent lawyers, was shot dead on Tuesday in the 15th 'hit' style killing on the French Mediterranean island this year.

Sollacaro, an advocate who defended both Corsican nationalists and some of the island's most notorious criminal figures, was killed after stopping his car at a service station in Ajaccio on his way to his office in the centre of the town.

A witness said two motorcyclists opened fire on the 63-year-old and then fled. Ten cartridges were found at the scene.

The slaying of Sollacaro came shortly after the bullet-ridden body of a former nationalist activist, Jean-Dominique Allegrini-Simonetti, 50, was discovered in his car near the village of Balagne in the mountainous centre of the island.

Police do not believe the two assassinations are directly linked but there may be a common thread as other recent killings have all been ascribed to score-settling between rival criminal gangs, some of whom overlap with sections of the nationalist movement.

The killing of Sollacaro will be investigated by a team of detectives (JIRS) based in Marseille who have handled previous probes into the island's criminal underworld.

The lawyer represented a number of the figures who have been subject to JIRS investigations and were also former allies from the separatist Movement for Self Determination (MPA).

Among them were the former chairman of Ajaccio's chamber of commerce and convicted drug dealer Gilbert Casanova and Antoine Nivaggioni, the late founder of a security company, SMS, which was at the centre of a vast corruption scandal related to tenders for state contracts on the island.

Sollacaro had also represented Robert Feliciaggi, Michel Tomi, Jose Menconi and Francis Mariani, all figures suspected or known to be involved in mafia activities on the island.

He is best known however for defending Yvan Colonna, the nationalist currently serving a life sentence for the 1998 assassination of France's top official on the island, the prefect Claude Erignac.

The lawyer is believed to have escaped an earlier assassination attempt in 2009 when a heavily-armed man involved in the SMS affair was arrested near his home.

A huge, charismatic man with a love of the good life, Sollacaro had a gift for court-room polemics, most famously comparing the judges in Colonna's appeal hearing to the Myanmar junta.

In recent years he had reduced his legal activity in favour of real estate investment in the area of Porto-Vecchio in the south of Corsica.

He leaves a wife and two children: a son who is himself an advocate and a daughter who was due to take her final bar exams this week.

French Interior Minister Manuel Valls voiced his shock at the latest killings in Corsica and promised a crackdown.

"When the gowns of an advocate are attacked, it is a symbol of the rule of law that is being challenged," he said

"The state will not forget the cruel price that its servants have paid (in Corsica) and will mobilise to secure the end to this violence that is dearly wished by the vast majority of the population."

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‘Red lights’ as over-tourism threatens Corsican nature reserve

"It's nature's magical design," says a tourist guide, waxing poetic as he comments on the impressive red cliffs plunging into a turquoise sea at the Scandola nature reserve on France's Corsica island.

'Red lights' as over-tourism threatens Corsican nature reserve
A fisherman sails at sunrise off Ajaccio, Corsica. Photo: AFP

“Amazing!” exclaims Irena Snydrova, a Czech tourist visiting the UNESCO World Heritage site with her family, along with groups from Italy, Spain and France.

Their boat sidles up to the Steps of Paradise, rocks shaped into a stairway some 15 metres long, then glides on to Bad Luck Pass, a former pirates' redoubt.

The ages have sculpted the volcanic cliffs into myriad shapes that beguile the visitor, who might imagine a kissing couple here, a horse's head there, Napoleon's two-cornered hat further on…

The park, created in 1975, is an ecological dream, being a nature reserve and a protected marine zone that is listed by France's coastal protection agency and Natura 2000, in addition to its recognition by UNESCO.

It is a prime destination for the some three million people who visit Corsica each year, 75 percent of them in the summer.

The paradox is that growing numbers of tourists are drawn to Scandola's pristine waters and stunning geological vistas, endangering its fragile ecosystem.

The park, reached only by boat some 40 minutes from the tiny port of Porto,
stretches over 10 square kilometres of sea, and a somewhat smaller area of land.

“The reserve is a jewel for Corsica and the Mediterranean, but several red lights are flashing,” says marine biologist Charles-Francois Boudouresque, listing flora and fauna at risk, including ospreys, seagrass and fish species such as the brown meagre.

The tourist season coincides with the ospreys' mating season, notes Boudouresque, an emeritus professor at the Mediterranean Institute of Oceanography.

Because of over-tourism, ospreys' “reproductive success is zero or near zero, with either no chicks or just one chick” per year, he says.

Boudouresque, who also heads Scandola's scientific advisory council, says the osprey could become extinct in 50 years.

Since last month, at the urging of the scientific council, boats must keep a distance of at least 250 metres from ospreys' nests during the breeding season.

“It's a good start,” Boudouresque says.

As for the marine park's fish species, Boudouresque says he thinks the thrumming of the tourist boats is scaring them away.

But a crew member, who gave his name only as Diego, blamed groupers for the declining population of corb. “They eat everything,” he told AFP.

Tensions have arisen pitting tour boat operators and fishermen against the reserve's conservationist Jean-Marie Dominici.

Boudouresque says the seagrass “is not in the best shape,” blaming the anchors dropped by the many boats — some of them private vessels without authorised guides.

“It's bizarre for a nature reserve to see all these boats,” said Pierre Gilibert, a 65-year-old doctor, who is a regular visitor. “It might be wise to allow access only to professional boats.”

Many share the opinion that private boats are not sufficiently monitored or informed of ecological concerns.

“This morning we saw people climbing on the rocks and berthing their boats in narrow passageways, which is not allowed,” said Gabriel Pelcot, chief mechanic on a cruise ship of the Corsican company Nave Va.

Nave Va, as well as rival Via Mare, uses hybrid vessels: they are powered by diesel up to the edge of the marine park, then switch to electric for a quieter and less polluting presence.

Pelcot notes that this green option is 30 percent more expensive, but he expects it to catch on.

“We must find a compromise between the need for tourists to enjoy this natural treasure and that of not killing the goose that laid the golden egg,” Boudouresque says.

The marine biologist is optimistic that general awareness of the problems is growing.

He envisions ways to marry tourism with preservation. One example, he says, would be to focus cameras on ospreys' nests so that they can be observed without being disturbed.

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