Macron calls for calm after Corsican nationalist Colonna dies in prison attack

Macron calls for calm after Corsican nationalist Colonna dies in prison attack The French government called for calm in Corsica on Tuesday after the killing of jailed nationalist Yvonne Colonna, raising fears of renewed violence on the Mediterranean island.

Colonna was attacked on March 2 by a fellow prisoner in southern France where he was being held over the 1998 assassination of a senior French government official.

News of his death – announced late Monday – threatens to inflame tensions after some of the worst riots in years earlier this month in Corsica, where some see Colonna as a hero in the struggle for independence.

“The most important thing is that calm continues and discussions continue,” French President Emmanuel Macron told France Bleu radio, and pledged an investigation to determine how Colonna was killed.

“A man has died. It’s a dangerous situation… We can’t allow things like this to happen in our prisons,” he added.

Marches were called on Tuesday in the island’s main towns of Bastia and Ajaccio, while commemorative candlelit phrases and writing in Corsican language “Gloria AT” (“Glory to you”) appeared in the streets.

Colonna, one of France’s most prominent inmates, has been left in a coma after being beaten and strangled in prison in Arles by an Islamic extremist serving a prison sentence for terrorist crimes.

“The family asks for their grief to be respected and will not make any comment,” Colonna lawyer Patrice Spinossi told AFP on Monday evening, confirming the death of his client in a hospital in Marseille from his injuries.

“We have to give the family time to mourn. But there is a lot of anger and sadness,” student Antoine Solace told AFP on the sidelines of a rally outside the local government office in Ajaccio on Tuesday.

A criminal investigation and an internal prison investigation were opened, while the government in Paris made surprising concessions on the island’s political situation just a month after the presidential election.

French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin announced last week that the government may be willing to grant autonomy to Corsica, which has helped police restore order after several nights of clashes.

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Jean Castex’s office announced that Colonna partners Alain Ferrandi and Pierre Alessandre would be transferred to a prison in Corsica “by mid-April”.

Colonna was captured in 2003 after a five-year hunt that eventually found him living as a shepherd in the mountains of Corsica.

He was sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder of Claude Ireneac, the highest regional official in Corsica, who was shot dead in the street in 1998 while walking to the theatre.

Colonna has always denied responsibility, and recently campaigned through his wife to be taken to Corsica to serve his sentence near his family and sons.

After widespread riots and anger over security failures at the Arles prison, Darmanin visited Corsica last week and made an offer of political autonomy, which appeared to ease tensions.

Gilles Simeone, leader of the pro-autonomous regional council of Corsica, welcomed his proposals, describing them as “important words that open up prospects, but which should now be expanded and confirmed”.

Corsica’s FLN, which carried out bloody attacks for decades before laying down its arms in 2014, warned earlier this month that it could restart its fight if Paris remained in “pejorative denial”.

Many Corsicans are frustrated that the reform of the island’s status that Macron promised has stalled since 2018.

Pro-autonomy activists want more control over tax policy, local government employment policies in favor of Corsicans, expanded use of the local language, as well as restrictions on mainland residents buying property on the island.

The controversy has intensified at a very sensitive moment, as France prepares for presidential elections in April, and right-wing opponents of Macron have warned of the danger of the island falling out of Paris’ control.

Negotiations on Corsica’s autonomy are set to begin in April and should be concluded by the end of this year, according to a memorandum agreed upon by Darmanin and Simeone.

French government spokesman, Gabriel Attal, on Tuesday stressed the government’s “red lines” – that “Corsica remains part of the republic and the fact that we will never accept that there are two classes of people in the republic.”

Colonna’s killer, Frank Elong Abe, was in prison on terrorism charges after his arrest in Afghanistan. He has been accused of the attack.

Prosecutors said he attacked a fellow prisoner after he was angry at his “blasphemy” and alleged mockery of the Prophet Muhammad.

Investigators said Abe attacked Colonna while he was training in the prison gym by pulling a bag over his head and strangling him.



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