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Macron angers Corsican nationalists during two-day visit

French President Emmanuel Macron speaking in Bastia on Wednesday
French President Emmanuel Macron speaking in Bastia on Wednesday REUTERS/Benoit Tessier

French President Emmanuel Macron talked tough on a two-day visit to Corsica this week, rejecting calls for the release of "political prisoners" and official status for the local language but offering a mention of the Mediterranean island in the constitution.

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Gilles Simeoni, the president of the island's local government, slammed the visit as a "missed opportunity" and local assembly president Jean-Guy Talamoni said he was "dismayed" by the president's response to the calls of the nationalists, who scored a historic success in assembly elections in December.

In a speech in the northern town of Bastia, Macron said no to all the nationalists' major demands:

  • Language: The Corsican language, which is closely related to Tuscan Italian, will not be named as one of France's official language - "In the French republic there is one official language, French," he declared;

  • Resident's status: Macron rejected calls for a status of resident put forward by local people who believe that the number of holiday homes on the island has pushed up property prices;

  • Prisoners: Nationalist prisoners will not be granted political status because they have been jailed for "terrorist" offences - on Tuesday Macron had declared there would be "no forgetting and no amnesty" while paying tribute to the state's top representative on the island, Claude Erignac, who was shot dead 20 years ago.

Simeoni and Talamoni boycotted a working lunch with Macron because of those remarks but attended the speech, which they did not applaud.

Stéphanie Collona, the wife of Yvan Collona who was convicted of Erignac's assassination, confronted Macron in front of television cameras on Tuesday, telling him that the couple's six-year-old son had not seen his father for a year and a half.

The nationalists want prisoners Like Colonna to be moved to the island from mainland France so that their families can visit them more easily.

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

In his speech, the president insisted that Corsica would remain part of France but suggested that its special identity could be recognised by a mention in the constitution.

A debate on revising the constitution is to be opened in the spring.

He also proposed extending the local authorities' capacity to raise taxes, a simplification of the law protecting the Corsica's coast and mountains and a guarantee of mobile phone network coverage throughout the island, by putting pressure on providers, if necessary.

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