Violent clashes erupted Wednesday on the French island of Corsica between young separatists and mobile police units. The confrontations broke out in the central town of Corte during a separatist demonstration protesting "anti-Corsican racism" and "the denial of democracy by the French State."
According to Corsican radio station Alta Frequenza, some 500 young people responded to the call of Ghjuventù Indipendentista, a political organization for the preservation of Corsican culture that was formed in 1999. Its name means "separatist youth" in Corsican. Protesters chanted slogans like, "A nostra terra ùn hè à vende" ("Our land is not for sale") and "Statu francese assassinu" ("Murderous French State").
Corte Deputy Prefect Dominique Schuffenecker estimated that the protest drew between 250 and 300 demonstrators. He confirmed to VICE News on Thursday that two police officers were injured in the clashes. Other sources indicated that officials had made several botched attempts to arrest protesters.
Armed with stones and Molotov cocktails, protesters burned down two military trucks that were barricading the Cours Paoli, Corte's main thoroughfare. Police officers extinguished the blaze and tried to disperse the crowd using tear gas. Despite police intervention, demonstrators sustained the protest for two hours, setting fire to tires and taunting riot police officers. According to French daily Le Monde, they also smashed the windows of a bank in the town center.
On Tuesday and Wednesday, student members of Ghjuventù Indipendentista blockaded several high schools on the island. Petru Vesperini, a Corte student who heads up the separatist organization, explained to VICE News that young people in Corsica have had enough.
"We sent out a global call to Corsican youth," he said, "calling for protest against the current situation in Corsica, which is characterized by a disproportionate wave of repression, anti-Corsican racism, and the denial of democracy by the French government."
Vesperini singled out a recent incident involving the Corsican flag, which portrays a Moor's head wearing a white bandana. Following a recent skirmish at a soccer game between the mainland town of Nice and the Corsican club of Bastia, French Prefect Adolphe Colrat banned Corsican supporters from waving their regional flag.
Vesperini said that Corsicans are also up in arms against recent remarks by journalist Christopher Barbier, managing editor of the French daily L'Express. During a November 13 interview with the Corsican newspaperCorse-Matin, Barbier sided with French Prime Minister Manuel Valls's comments asserting that "violence is engrained in Corsican culture."
For Vesperini, Valls's declaration is symptomatic of the French government's efforts to stifle Corsican democracy. The French government's denial of democracy, he said, is clearly evident "when the Corsican assembly passes three major laws and the French government ignores them."
Vesperini was referring to new resolutions aimed at protecting Corsicans residents from "the consequences of real estate speculation by wealthy non-natives who are acquiring holiday homes" on the island, which is a popular Mediterranean tourist destination.
Real estate prices in Corsica have sky-rocketed in recent years. The laws would limit access to property to people who have lived on the island for five years or more. The Corsican assembly also voted to approve a resolution to make Corsican an official language on the island, alongside French.
Schuffenecker noted that these resolutions are not legally binding, and that the Corsican assembly can only pass bills that pertain to culture, heritage, and the environment.
Corsica gained independence from the Republic of Genoa, an independent state on the northwestern Italian coast, in 1735. In 1755, French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau helped the island establish its first democratic constitution, but the budding democracy was conquered 15 years later by France. It has been a French island ever since.
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