France could enable autonomy for Corsica after weeks of protests

‘The question of what autonomy would look like’ on the island would need to be ‘discussed’

Corsica has a long history of a separatist, independence movement, and tensions have been high in the past two weeks after a serious attack on imprisoned militant Yvan Colonna
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France is prepared to enable “autonomy” for Corsica, the interior minister has said, after two weeks of tensions on the island.

Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin is in Corsica today and tomorrow (March 16-17), and is set to visit the main cities of Ajaccio and Porto-Vecchio.

He made the statement to the newspaper Corse-Matin. He said: “We are ready to go as far as autonomy. But the question is, what does this autonomy look like? We need to discuss it.”

The minister suggested that his comments were intended to restore calm to the island, and to start the discussion process between the French government and Corsican ministers.

He said: “There cannot be sincere, democratic dialogue under the pressure of homemade bombs and the constant presence of law enforcement officers.”

‘Historic discussion’: Response from Corsica

Gilles Simeoni, president of the executive council of Corsica, has said that the minister’s comments do “not yet [represent] a victory for me, or for the Corsican people”.

However, speaking to FranceInfo, he said that it is “important” that “the interior minister, in the name of the prime minister, and probably of the president, has said today publicly that the government is ready to enter into a historic discussion”.

Mr Simeoni said: The fundamental problem is that everyone knows that there is a Corsican people, with our own community, language, culture, and connection to our land. But we can’t say it or recognise it.

“We must invent a legal and political change that also respects the fundamental principles of the French republic. What we want, is to build an emancipated Corsican society, which is democratic and responsible, with a newly-confident link with the state and the republic.”

Two weeks of tension

It comes after two weeks of tensions following an attack on the Corsican independence militant Yvan Colonna on March 2, while he was in prison in Arles (Bouches-du-Rhône). Mr Colonna is now in a coma following an attempt on his life.

Read more: Why are there angry protests against the French state in Corsica?

The militant has been serving a life sentence for the murder of Corsica’s then-prefect, Claude Erignac, in Ajaccio in 1998.

In response to the attack, protesters have targeted institutional buildings, and claimed that “the French state is a murderer” (“Statu francesu assassinu” in Corsican) for allowing the incident to happen.

Protesters have also been calling into question the law that states that Mr Colonna cannot be incarcerated in Corsica due to his “détenu particulièrement signalé’ (high-alert prisoner)” status. The militant was on the run for four years before he was captured.

Meanwhile, presidential candidate Valérie Pécresse has denounced the government’s response to the protests.

She told FranceInter that the move amounted to “giving in to violence”. She said: “This isn’t healthy. We must restore order in Corsica before starting negotiations.”

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