French police guard a Muslim prayer room in Ajaccio, Corsica, on December 26. Photo: AFP
As condemnation poured in from Muslim authorities and French officials over Friday's anti-Arab protests, around 100 demonstrators shouting “We're still here” turned out in the same low-income neighbourhood of the capital Ajaccio where the Christmas day violence took place.
Despite a heavy police presence, one demonstrator managed to smash three glass entrance doors in the Jardins de l'Empereur housing estate perched on an Ajaccio hillside as protesters shouted “This is our home!”.
Like the demonstration that ended in trouble the previous day, the protest aimed to denounce violence against police and firefighters on the estate.
Two firefighters and a police officer were wounded in the neighbourhood overnight on Christmas Eve after a fire was “deliberately lit … to ambush police and firefighters”, said regional official Francois Lalanne.
A firefighter at the scene said hooded youths who attacked the officers shouted at them: “Scram, Corsicans, you're not at home here!”
On Friday afternoon, 600 people had gathered in front of police headquarters in Ajaccio in a show of support for the police and firefighters. But some 300 broke away to head for the housing estate.
Shouting “Arabs get out!” or “This is our home!”, the group smashed a Muslim prayer room, partially burning books including copies of the Koran, said Lalanne.
French Prime Minister Manuel Valls wrote on Twitter that the break-in was “an unacceptable desecration”, while also condemning the “intolerable attack” on the wounded firefighters.
Anouar Kbibech, president of the French Council of the Muslim Faith (CFCM), said he had learnt of the mosque attack and the burning of “several copies of the Koran” with “distress”.
French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said the attack on the Muslim prayer hall showed signs of “racism and xenophobia”.
He also condemned the assault on law enforcement and safety officers in Corsica, saying he hoped “the authors of the violence would be identified and arrested as soon as possible.”