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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

‘I’ve lost my eyebrows – but not my political ambition’, says France’s ex PM

France's former prime minister Edouard Philippe, a leading contender to succeed President Emmanuel Macron in 2027 elections, has opened up about a hair loss condition he says will not diminish his political ambition.

'I've lost my eyebrows - but not my political ambition', says France's ex PM

The 52-year-old politician, who spearheaded the government’s fight against the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic, was a familiar face on television with his trademark brown beard.

Since leaving the post in the summer of 2020 and working as mayor of the Normandy port of Le Havre, his appearance has drastically changed with his hair and beard thinning and turning white suddenly.

“This is what had happened to me: I lost my eyebrows, and I don’t think they will come back,” he told BFMTV in an interview late Thursday.

“My beard has turned white, it’s falling out a bit and the hair too.

“The moustache is gone, I don’t know if it will come back, but I would be surprised,” he said.

“I have what is called alopecia,” he added, opening up about the auto-immune condition that accelerates hair loss.

He said the condition was “not painful, dangerous, contagious or serious”.

Philippe’s wry and avuncular style proved popular with many French and some speculated that his high approval ratings had caused tensions with Macron, with replaced him as Prime Minister in the summer of 2020.

Philippe now regularly tops polls of France’s most-loved and most-trusted politicians. 

He has now founded a new centrist party called Horizons that is allied with Macron’s ruling faction but also unafraid of showing an independent streak.

Some analysts see Philippe as an obvious potential successor to Macron, who must leave office after serving the maximum two terms in 2027.

And Philippe insisted that his condition would not stand in the way of his political plans.

“That doesn’t stop me from being extremely ambitious for my city,” he said referring to Le Havre.

Tellingly, he added: “It doesn’t stop me from being extremely ambitious for my country.”

With France buffeted by strikes and protests as the government seeks to push through landmark pension reform, Philippe gave his full backing to Macron for the changes.

He said he supported the changes “without ambiguity, without any bad note or any other kind of little complication”.

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