France: Death of Corsican nationalist fuels calls for independence

France: Death of Corsican nationalist fuels calls for independence
Yvan Colona. Credit: Belga

Corsica is in mourning after the death of nationalist Yvan Colonna. However, many fear further uprisings in the aftermath of his death after pro-nationalists riots erupted on the French island in recent weeks. 

Colonna was pronounced dead Monday evening after three weeks in a coma in hospital. He had been strangled in prison by Cameroonian Islamist prisoner Franck Elong Abe. 

The murder was filmed by surveillance footage and lasted for nine long minutes before prison security intervened. The jihadist justified his actions by accusing Colonna of blasphemy.

Protests

The assault on Colonna ignited protests across the island, where violence broke out in cities such as Ajaccio, Bastia and Corte. 

Riots in Bastia ten days ago left over 100 people injured, while the protestors shouted: “French assassin state!” The island's nationalist leaders urged people to calm down, but were overtaken by more fervent, younger people, reported Le Soir. 

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French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin was sent to the island last week to ease the situation. “We are ready to go towards autonomy," the minister declared, a radical statement for a government in the middle of presidential elections. 

Four out of ten French people now support Corsican independence, according to a poll for CNEWS. 

Corsican nationalism

The French island has a complicated relationship with the mainland, with a strong nationalist movement that advocates for autonomy if not downright independence.

Colonna is considered a hero in the island’s battle towards greater autonomy. Yet he was sentenced to life in prison in 2003 on mainland France for the murder of police offer Claude Erignanc in 1998. 

Nationalists on the island have been frustrated by a stalled reform on the island’s status since 2018, with many insisting on further control on fiscal and hiring policies as well as greater emphasis on Corsican language.

French President Emmanuel Macron promised an investigation into Colonna's murder, which is expected to come out in April.

French presidential elections and Corsican autonomy

The question of Corsican autonomy has divided the presidential candidates, and the right won't give an inch of the island. "Corsica must remain French", argued Marine Le Pen in a tweet, while Eric Zemmour asserted "yes to the proud identity of a strong Corsica in a strong France."

Candidates on the left supported autonomy, with Greens candidate Yannick Jadot declaring "full autonomy" for Corsica on France 2, while Paris mayor and presidential candidate Anne Hidalgo said the island should have "legislative autonomy" on Europe 1.

Talks on autonomy will start in April just as the French gear up to go to the polls. It is expected that the negotiations will finish by the end of the year, according to Darmanin and the leader of Corsica’s pro-autonomy regional council, Gilles Simeoni. 

However, it is unclear if this will be enough to deter further riots. 


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