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Nationalists boycott Macron during Corsica visit

Posted Feb 7, 2018 by AFP
Nationalist politicians on the island of Corsica boycotted a lunch with French President Emmanuel Macron on Wednesday during a tense trip to the territory which saw him rule out many of their demands for greater autonomy.
Stephanie Colonna  whose husband is serving a life sentence for assassinating France's former t...
Stephanie Colonna, whose husband is serving a life sentence for assassinating France's former top official in Corsica, has begged French President Emmanuel Macron to let her husband see their son
Christophe Petit Tesson, EPA POOL/AFP

Nationalist politicians on the island of Corsica boycotted a lunch with French President Emmanuel Macron on Wednesday during a tense trip to the territory which saw him rule out many of their demands for greater autonomy.

Local elected leaders Gilles Simeoni and Jean-Guy Talamoni stayed away from a working lunch with the 40-year-old president, on the second and final day of his trip to the Mediterranean island of 330,000 people.

The protest was over Macron's remarks on Monday, when he insisted Corsica would remain French and ruled out an amnesty for jailed separatists.

But the local leaders attended Macron's main policy speech on Tuesday.

Addressing them, Macron offered to add a special mention of Corsica into the French constitution, but gave little ground on other key demands including recognition for the local language.

"In the French republic, there's an official language: French," Macron said.

Neither man applauded at the end of the speech, with Simeoni describing the trip later as a "missed opportunity".

"It's a sad night for Corsica," said Talamoni, saying he was "dismayed by the level of responses" given by Macron.

Macron's trip was being closely watched in France following a recent bid by separatists in the wealthy region of Catalonia to break away from Spain.

Corsican nationalism has long been a challenge to the highly centralised French government system, but the territory is economically weak and dependent on the mainland for state funding and its exports.

Nationalist parties cemented their dominance in regional assembly elections in December, but insist they are seeking only greater autonomy, not independence -- for now.

- Past killings -

French President Emmanuel Macron delivered a speech at the Alb'Oru cultural centre in Bastia in...
French President Emmanuel Macron delivered a speech at the Alb'Oru cultural centre in Bastia in Corsica
PASCAL POCHARD-CASABIANCA, AFP

Macron said adding Corsica to the French constitution would be in line with the status offered to other regions and would be "a way to recognise its identity and anchor it in the republic".

But he also dismissed a plea for special residency status for Corsicans giving them advantages over mainlanders, who are blamed for high property prices due to the buoyant market in holiday homes.

Macron began his visit with a tribute to Claude Erignac, the state's top representative on the island, who was assassinated 20 years ago in an attack that shocked France.

Speaking at a ceremony in the city of Ajaccio, Macron said Corsica had been "sullied" by the killing, for which nationalist Yvan Colonna is serving a life sentence, and that there would be "no forgetting and no amnesty".

The mountainous island has enjoyed stability since 2014 when the separatist National Liberation Front of Corsica (FLNC) called a ceasefire.

Colonna's wife confronted Macron in the street on Tuesday in front of television cameras, telling him that their six-year-old son had not seen his father for a year and a half.

"He's not an animal, he's a human being," Stephanie Colonna said.

"That your child can see his father, that people who are detained in our country can see their family -- that's one of the things we will ensure," Macron promised in reply.

Erignac was gunned down on February 6, 1998 while on his way to a concert with his wife.

The killing was the worst in a nearly four-decade campaign of attacks on the island, mostly targeting state infrastructure.