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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

Macron rules out ‘national unity government’ for France

French president Emmanuel Macron has promised a new style of government based on 'listening and respect' - but did not announce an alliance with any other parties that would give him a majority in parliament.

Macron rules out 'national unity government' for France

Macron has been holding meetings with all other party leaders in an attempt to break the deadlock in parliament after his group lost its majority in Sunday’s elections, but in a live TV address to the nation he did not announce an alliance.

Instead he said that a new style of government was called for, saying: “The responsibility of the presidential majority is therefore to expand, either by building a coalition contract or by building majorities text by text.”

He rejected the idea of forming a “government of national unity” with all parties, saying that the present situation does not justify it.

But he said that opposition groups have signalled that: “They are available to advance on major topics” such as the cost of living, jobs, energy, climate and health.”

He said: “We must learn how to govern differently, by dialogue, respect, and listening

“This must mean making agreements, through dialogue, respect, and hard work. The country has made its desire for change clear.”  

Speaking for just eight minutes in the gardens of the Elysée, Macron added: “I cannot ignore the fractures and strong divisions that traverse our country.”   

Macron’s centrist group Ensemble (Together) ended Sunday’s elections as the largest group in parliament – but with 245 seats they are 44 short of an absolute majority.

The leftist coalition Nupes – an electoral alliance of the hard-left La France Insoumise, the centre-left Parti Socialiste, the Greens and the Communists – got a total of 131.

Meanwhile Marine Le Pen’s far-right Rassemblement National got 89 seats and the centre-right Les Républicains got 61 seats. 

With deadlock in parliament, Macron has been holding meetings over the last two days with the party leaders in the attempt to create an alliance that will allow him to pass legislation over the next five years.

Macron’s position as president is not threatened by the lack of a majority, but it will mean that passing any legislation – which must be agreed by parliament – will be very difficult.

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