Nationalists gain in Corsica to boost demands for autonomy from Paris

Nationalists on the French Mediterranean island of Corsica cemented gains in regional elections on Sunday, underpinned by their demands for greater autonomy from Paris.

Nationalists gain in Corsica to boost demands for autonomy from Paris

The outcome is widely expected to pose a new challenge to President Emmanuel Macron who will have to decide whether to cede some control or maintain France's tradition of highly centralised government.

The governing Pe a Corsica (For Corsica) alliance — made up of the pro-autonomy Femu a Corsica (Let's Make Corsica) and pro-independence Corsica Libera (Free Corsica) — won 45 percent in a first round of voting a week ago and cemented that showing with 56.5 percent Sunday — albeit turnout was low at 52.6 percent.

The win will give Pe a Corsica a comfortable majority in the island's assembly which will start work early next year. The nationalists will also
take the 11 seats up for grabs on the governing executive council, which carries out the equivalent functions of regional council presidents in mainland France.

“Paris today has to take stock of what is happening in Corsica,” Pe a Corsica's leading candidate, Gilles Simeoni, said after the results came

French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said he had sent “republican congratulations” to the winners, adding he was willing to meet them once the
island's assembly is up and running.

In response Simeoni told reporters “Beyond the formal politeness, we expect and hope for a genuine dialogue,” with the French state.

The strong result for the autonomists comes amid political crisis in Spain — with potentially major consequences for the European Union — following
efforts by Catalan nationalists to break away from Madrid.

The leaders of Pe a Corsica have stressed throughout that their short-term goal is greater autonomy, rather than independence — not least because the
mountainous island is dependent on state spending.

They have formulated three core demands: they want equal recognition for the Corsican language along with French and an amnesty for convicts they
consider to be political prisoners.

They also want the state to recognise a special Corsican residency status — which would be used to fight against property speculation fuelled by
foreigners snapping up holiday homes.

Economic dependency

Opinion polls show that most of Corsica's 330,000 residents, many of whom live off seasonal tourism or are employed in the public sector, want to remain
in France.

Even separatist leader Jean-Guy Talamoni — nicknamed by some “the Corsican Puigdemont” after the Catalan leader — suggests the island would split from
France in 10 or 15 years at the earliest, if a majority supported it.

“An economically viable Corsica — I don't think we'll see it in my lifetime,” a Corsica specialist at the University of Bordeaux, Thierry
Dominici, told AFP last week.

That is not the case for Catalonia, where separatists complain that their wealthy region, representing a fifth of Spain's economic output, pays more
than it gets back into national coffers.

Corsica, famed for having some of the best beaches in Europe and for being the birthplace of Napoleon, was once a hotbed of violent anti-French militancy.

The National Liberation Front of Corsica (FLNC) waged a four-decade bombing campaign — mainly targeting state infrastructure — until 2014.

The worst nationalist attack saw France's top official on the island, Claude Erignac, assassinated in 1998.


UPDATED: Police break up separatist protest on Spain-France route

Catalan separatists once again blocked routes linking Spain and France on Wednesday morning in an ongoing protest to try to draw international attention to the Catalan independence issue.

UPDATED: Police break up separatist protest on Spain-France route
Spanish policemen face Catalan separatist activists blocking traffic on a motorway linking France and Spain.Photos: AFP

Police on Wednesday managed to disperse Catalan separatist protesters from a busy motorway linking Spain and France, reopening the road in both directions after more than 48 hours of intermittent blockages.

The demonstration caused chaos on an artery which is particularly important for cross-border freight transport and is used by some 20,000 lorries per day.   

The highway jam began on Monday morning when hundreds of activists flocked to the border area of La Jonquera, blocking the busy AP7 motorway linking northeastern Spain and southern France.

Organised by activist group Democratic Tsunami, it was just the latest operation in an ongoing campaign of protest that began in mid-October when Spain's top court jailed nine separatist leaders over a failed 2017 independence bid.   

Although the blockage was briefly cleared by French and Spanish police on Tuesday morning, protesters shifted their action some 65 kilometres (40 miles) further south, where the motorway passes through the city of Girona.

With the motorway impassable, many cars and trucks were stuck there overnight.

Also Tuesday, demonstrators blocked another cross-border motorway in Irun, at the other end of the Pyrenees, linking Spain's Basque country with southwestern France, calling their protest “Operation Snail”.

By Wednesday morning, clashes broke out at the Girona site where masked protesters torched barricades and hurled stones at the security forces who eventually managed to disperse them, the Catalan regional police said.

Democratic Tsunami, which managed to flood Barcelona airport with some 10,000 protesters on the day of the verdict, is a recently-formed group that says it does not depend on separatist parties or civil associations for support.   

Its leaders remain unknown and they keep in touch with each other through encrypted messaging apps such as Wire.

The protests were also backed by activists from the radical CDR, which has also vowed to continue its direct action.   

“As long as there are hostages… and we do not have the right to self-determination, there will be chaos. Independence or barbarism!” it tweeted on Wednesday.