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Riots shake Corsica over assault of jailed nationalist figure

Violent clashes broke out between protesters and police overnight Wednesday to Thursday on France’s Mediterranean island of Corsica.

An attack on Yvan Colonna, a Corsican nationalist figure, has stoked anger on the island where some still see him as a hero in the fight for independence
An attack on Yvan Colonna, a Corsican nationalist figure, has stoked anger on the island where some still see him as a hero in the fight for independence - Copyright AFP Yuriy Dyachyshyn
An attack on Yvan Colonna, a Corsican nationalist figure, has stoked anger on the island where some still see him as a hero in the fight for independence - Copyright AFP Yuriy Dyachyshyn
Jeanne COLONNA

Violent clashes broke out between protesters and police overnight Wednesday to Thursday on France’s Mediterranean island of Corsica where local anger is growing over the assault in prison of a nationalist figure.

Yvan Colonna, who is serving a life sentence for the assassination in 1998 of Corsica’s top regional official Claude Erignac, is in a coma after being beaten on March 2 in jail by a fellow detainee, according to investigators.

The detainee is Cameroon national Franck Elong Abe, who is serving time for terror offences after being arrested in Afghanistan.

Investigators said Abe attacked Colonna while he was working out in the prison gym, pulled a bag over his head and tried to strangle him.

Some media initially reported Colonna dead from a shortage of oxygen to the brain, but doctors managed to keep him alive.

French prosecutors have charged Colonna’s alleged jail assailant with attempted murder in association with a terror group.

According to France’s top anti-terror prosecutor Jean-Francois Ricard, he confessed to the attack, saying he had been angered by “blasphemous statements” made by Colonna while behind bars.

The incident has stoked anger on the island where some still see Colonna — who was arrested only in 2003 after a five-year manhunt that eventually found him living as a shepherd in the Corsican mountains — as a hero in a fight for independence.

Hundreds demonstrated in the main Corsican cities of Ajaccio, Calvi and Bastia with the protests rapidly degenerating into clashes with security forces, AFP correspondents said.

Corsica, one of the Mediterranean’s largest islands, has been French since the 18th Century.

It is known as “Island of Beauty” because of its unspoiled coastlines, spectacular beaches and mild climate, which have made it popular with tourists who are the island’s main source of income.

But there have also been constant tensions between independence-seeking nationalists and the central government, involving assassinations of officials sent by Paris, as well as frequent murders between the island’s rival political factions.

– ‘Considerable damage’ –

Government buildings were the main focus of the overnight unrest, with protesters breaking into the main justice building in Ajaccio, setting fire to scrap papers.

“There was a fire on the court’s ground floor which didn’t spread to the upper floors, but there’s still considerable damage,” the chief of the southern Corsican fire services, Jean-Jacques Peraldi, told AFP.

Protesters then went on to ransack a bank situated on a square named after the murdered prefect Erignac.

Local authorities said 14 people were wounded in Ajaccio alone, including a journalist for France’s TF1 TV channel who was hurt in the leg.

At least two people were arrested, a police source said.

In Calvi, dozens of demonstrators threw petrol bombs at government buildings and smashed windows with rocks, local authorities said.

In Bastia, 23 anti-riot police and three civilians were injured, they said.

Colonna was jailed in the south of France with authorities long rejecting his demand to be transferred to Corsica, saying his offence made him a special status detainee.

In a bid to ease tensions, Prime Minister Jean Castex on Tuesday removed this status, but the move failed to placate Colonna’s supporters in Corsica.

AFP
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With 2,400 staff representing 100 different nationalities, AFP covers the world as a leading global news agency. AFP provides fast, comprehensive and verified coverage of the issues affecting our daily lives.

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