Funeral for Corsican nationalist who died after prison attack

A jailed Corsican nationalist whose death in prison has turned him into a martyr for some is to be buried on Friday amid unease in Paris about fierce public support for the convicted killer.

Funeral for Corsican nationalist who died after prison attack
Crowds hold a picture of jailed Corsican nationalist Yvan Colonna Photo by Pascal POCHARD-CASABIANCA / AFP)

The death of Yvan Colonna, a former goat herder on the French Mediterranean island, was announced on Monday. He had been in a coma since being attacked in prison on March 2nd.

The 61-year-old was serving a life sentence after his conviction of assassinating a senior French official in 1998, but he is seen as a hero by some for his role in the violent struggle for Corsican independence.

“We want to show to the French state that there is a Corsican people,” local musician and pro-independence activist Jean Mattei, 72, told AFP on Wednesday night during a vigil for Colonna attended by thousands.

“When you touch one of us, we’re all there, whatever our divisions,” he said.

Colonna will be buried on Friday in his family fiefdom of Cargese on the rugged western coast of what is known as the Island of Beauty due to its mountains and pristine coastline.

News of the attack against him by an Islamic extremist sparked several nights of rioting in early March and led the government to make a surprise offer of talks about increased autonomy for the island.

An estimated 4,000 people lined the streets on Wednesday evening after his body arrived by plane at the island’s capital of Ajaccio, many burning flares and flying the black-and-white Corsica flag.

Marches, candle-lit vigils and a decision to lower flags on the regional council building and at Ajaccio airport this week underlined public affection for Colonna while causing deep unease on the French mainland.

French President Emmanuel Macron said the decision to lower flags was “an error and inappropriate” in an interview on Wednesday night.

Colonna was tried and convicted three times for murdering the island’s Préfet Claude Erignac by shooting him at point-blank range in the head in 1998 as he headed to a theatre performance with his wife.

Although he maintained his innocence, Colonna went on the run before being arrested four years later when police tracked him down to a remote mountainous area in the south of the island.

The killing of Erignac was the most shocking of around 4,500 attacks carried out by the National Liberation Front of Corsica (FLNC) from the 1970s until the end of its armed struggle in 2014.

“The death in the way it happened, in prison, for Yvan Colonna was an offence,” Socialist Party leader Olivier Faure told RTL radio on Thursday.

“But to make him into a hero, to give the impression that he is a model for the young generations, is a scandal,” he said.

The killing of Colonna and the subsequent riots have given a boost to the Corsican cause, however, with Macron’s government agreeing to talks about greater political freedoms for the island.

The leader of Corsica’s pro-autonomy regional council, Gilles Simeoni, welcomed the proposals as “important words that open up prospects, but they ought now to be extended and firmed up.”

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Pressure mounts on France’s new disabilities minister to resign over rape allegations

French President Emmanuel Macron's newly appointed disabilities minister was facing mounting pressure to resign on Monday after the emergence of rape allegations from over a decade ago.

Pressure mounts on France's new disabilities minister to resign over rape allegations

The accusations against Damien Abad, which he denies, are a major headache for Macron and his new Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne as they seek to keep political momentum after his April presidential poll victory and ahead of June parliamentary elections.

They also come after several politicians running for parliament stepped down in recent weeks over alleged violence against women.

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

READ ALSO Who’s who in France’s new government 

But the next day, the Mediapart news site reported a politics watchdog group created by members of France’s MeToo movement had informed prosecutors as well as Macron’s LREM party of rape claims against Abad by two women in 2010 and 2011.

The government’s new spokeswoman Olivia Gregoire on Monday denied that Macron and his government were aware of the allegations when Abad had been appointed.

One of the women told Mediapart that in 2010 she blacked out after accepting a glass of champagne and woke up in her underwear in pain with Abad in a hotel room, and believes she may have been drugged.

She has not filed an official complaint, but prosecutors are looking into the case following a report filed by the Observatory of Sexist and Sexual Violence in Politics.

The other woman, named only as Margaux, said that her sexual encounter with Abad in 2011 began as consensual, but accuses him of then forcing anal sex on her.

The report said she informed the police in 2012 but then declined to formally make a complaint, and her subsequent claim in 2017 was later dismissed by prosecutors.

“I’m relieved that it’s come out, because I knocked on quite a few doors so that someone would do something after the case was dismissed, as I thought it was unfair,” Margaux told AFP on Sunday.

“A lot of people knew but some preferred to look away rather than ask more questions,” she added.

Abad said in a statement he contested “in the strongest way” the allegations, arguing his own disability means he is incapable of sexually assaulting anyone.

The newly appointed minister has arthrogryposis, a rare condition that affects the joints, which he says means sexual relations can only occur with the help of a partner.

The allegations overshadowed the new cabinet’s first meeting on Monday, with Gregoire facing a string of questions on the case.

“The government is with those who, following an assault or harassment, have the immense courage to speak out,” Gregoire told reporters.

She added it is up to the judicial system to establish the truth and that, to her knowledge, “no other procedure against Damien Abad is in the works”.

But politicians on the left called for his immediate resignation.

“If I were prime minister, I would tell Damien Abad: ‘I have no particular reason to believe the women are lying… While we wait for a decision from the judicial system, I wish for you not to be part of the government,'” Socialist Party leader Olivier Faure told France Inter radio.

Green politician Sandrine Rousseau also called for Abad to go.

“We need to send a loud enough message to women, that their voices count,” Rousseau told RTL radio.

Borne, herself only appointed last week in the reshuffle, said on Sunday there could be no impunity for harassment and sexual assault.

“If there is new information, if a new complaint is filed, we will draw all the consequences,” Borne said.

In 2020, Macron’s decision to appoint Gérald Darmanin as interior minister – although he was accused of rape, sexual harassment and abuse of power – drew heavy criticism, even sparking demonstrations.

Darmanin, who kept his job in the reshuffle, has denied any wrongdoing and prosecutors in January asked for the case to be dropped.