Paris ready to discuss ‘autonomy’ for Corsica after riots: France

The government plans to appease the island’s independence movement with an offer of ‘autonomy’, according to a minister.

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, according to interior minister Gerald Darmanin.

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

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 prison attack on Yvan Colonna, one of a group who assassinated Paris’ top official on the island in 1998.

Dozens injured

Prosecutors said about 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 fellow inmate over “blasphemy” in a “clearly terrorist” act.

Minister of the Interior of the French Republic Gerald Darmanin [File: Darek Delmanowicz/EPA]

“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”.

‘Real political solution’

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 on Friday.

Protesters throws projectiles during clashes with police
Protesters throw projectiles during clashes with police in Bastia on March 13 [Pascal Pochard-Casabianca/AFP]

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