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France could offer Corsica ‘autonomy’ after weeks of riots

Paris could offer Corsica "autonomy" to calm tensions between the Mediterranean island's fierce independence movement and the French state that have flared this month, Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said ahead of a visit on Wednesday.

France could offer Corsica 'autonomy' after weeks of riots
France's Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin is visiting Corsica on Wednesday. Photo by Louisa GOULIAMAKI / AFP

“We are ready to go as far as autonomy. There you go, the word has been said,” Darmanin told regional newspaper Corse Matin.

But he added that “there can be no dialogue while violence is going on. A return to calm is an indispensable condition.”

As France heads into a presidential election next month, violent demonstrations have broken out in Corsica following a savage prison attack on Yvan Colonna, one of a group who assassinated Paris’ top official on the island in 1998.

Prosecutors said some 102 people were injured on Sunday alone, 77 of them police officers, during clashes in Corsica’s second-largest city Bastia.

Corsican nationalists have blamed the French state for the attack on Colonna, regarded by many as a hero of the independence cause.

But Darmanin said the convicted killer had been attacked by a jihadist fellow inmate over “blasphemy” in “a clearly terrorist” act.

“This talk of a crime by the state is excessive, not to say intolerable,” he told Corse Matin.

Nevertheless, the government has already tried to soothe nationalist anger by removing an “especially notable prisoner” status from Colonna and two of his accomplices.

That could allow for their transfer to a prison on Corsica rather than the French mainland, a key nationalist demand for all prisoners they see as “political”.

Darmanin is set to meet elected officials in Corsican capital Ajaccio on Wednesday, including the pro-autonomy president of the regional council, Gilles Simeoni, who expressed hopes for “a real political solution”.

Autonomist and nationalist Corsicans are frustrated that a reform of the island’s status has been on ice since 2018.

“The government’s poor management of the Corsican question has created the extremely tense situation in which we find ourselves,” said Marie-Antoinette Maupertuis, the nationalist president of the regional parliament.

Darmanin will later visit a gendarmes unit in port town Porto-Vecchio, which came under attack by demonstrators Friday.

During the minister’s visit, “we imagine that things will get lively, but we don’t have a clear idea yet,” one police source told AFP.

So far just one demonstration has been planned for outside a local police station.

But France has deployed an additional unit of 60 special riot police to the island as a precaution, the source added.

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POLITICS

Prosecutors: No new rape inquiry for France’s disabilities minister

France's disabilities minister will not face a new inquiry "as things stand" over a rape allegation that surfaced just after his nomination by President Emmanuel Macron last week, prosecutors have said, citing the anonymity of the alleged victim.

Prosecutors: No new rape inquiry for France's disabilities minister

Damien Abad has faced growing pressure to resign after the news website Mediapart reported the assault claims by two women dating from over a decade ago, which he has denied.

One of the women, identified only by her first name, Margaux, filed a rape complaint in 2017 that was later dismissed by prosecutors.

The other woman, known only as Chloe, told Mediapart that in 2010 she had blacked out after accepting a glass of champagne from Abad at a bar in Paris, and woke up in her underwear in pain with him in a hotel room. She believes she may have been drugged.

She did not file an official complaint, but the Paris prosecutors’ office said it was looking into the case after being informed by the Observatory of Sexist and Sexual Violence in Politics, a group formed by members of France’s MeToo movement.

“As things stand, the Paris prosecutors’ office is not following up on the letter” from the observatory, it said, citing “the inability to identify the victim of the alleged acts and therefore the impossibility of proceeding to a hearing.”

In cases of sexual assault against adults, Paris prosecutors can open an inquiry only if an official complaint is made, meaning the victim must give their identity.

Abad has rejected the calls to resign in order to ensure the new government’s “exemplarity,” saying that he is innocent and that his own condition of arthrogryposis, which limits the movement of his joints, means sexual relations can occur only with the help of a partner.

The appointment of Abad as minister for solidarities and people with disabilities in a reshuffle last Friday was seen as a major coup for Macron, as the 42-year-old had defected from the right-wing opposition.

The new prime minister, Elisabeth Borne, said she was unaware of the allegations before Abad’s nomination, but insisted that “If there is new information, if a new complaint is filed, we will draw all the consequences.”

The claims could loom large over parliamentary elections next month, when Macron is hoping to secure a solid majority for his reformist agenda. Abad will be standing for re-election in the Ain department north of Lyon.

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