Europe

Corsica attack: Nationalist leader blames 'imported' racism

Protesters march in Ajaccio. Photo: 27 December 2015 Image copyright AFP
Image caption Corsicans with nationalist flags continued demonstrating on Sunday despite a ban on marches

A newly-elected Corsican nationalist leader has blamed an "imported ideology" for an attack on a Muslim prayer hall on the French island.

Jean-Guy Talamoni, president of the Corsican assembly, said the anti-Arab violence was "totally incompatible with our political tradition and culture".

Protesters in Ajaccio vandalised a Muslim prayer hall and trashed copies of the Koran on Friday. It was apparent revenge for an attack on firefighters.

On Sunday a crowd defied a protest ban.

Several hundred people waving Corsican nationalist flags marched through Ajaccio, but police prevented them from reaching the Jardins de l'Empereur (Emperor's Gardens) housing estate where Friday's attack happened.

About half of the estate's residents are immigrants.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Police cordoned off Ajaccio's flashpoint Jardins de l'Empereur housing estate on Sunday
Image copyright AFP
Image caption Corsican nationalist leader Jean-Guy Talamoni blamed National Front (FN) agitators

Previous marches had seen participants shout: "Arabs get out!"

Some protesters blamed local Arabs for an attack on firefighters on Christmas Day, in which two firefighters and a policeman were injured.

French regional elections this month put nationalists in power in Corsica for the first time. On the mainland, the anti-immigration, far-right National Front (FN) made big gains.

The French government has condemned both the anti-Muslim attack and the protests that followed.

Far right blamed

Mr Talamoni said the perpetrators of the anti-Muslim attack "were people, in our opinion, who tend to vote for the FN; our nationalism is incompatible with that ideology".

Speaking on France Inter radio, he said the continuing demonstrations "will not help calm the situation".

He blamed "some far-right groups which have been active in Corsica for several months".

"It's an imported ideology... Corsica was the first country in Europe to introduce religious tolerance in the 18th Century... Jews were protected here during the war," he said.

In mainland France local collaborators helped Nazi German occupation forces to deport thousands of Jews to Nazi concentration camps during World War Two.

France beefed up security measures for the Christmas holidays, following the 13 November attacks in Paris by Islamic State (IS) jihadists that left 130 people dead.

The Corsican authorities have banned all gatherings in the flashpoint area of Ajaccio until at least 4 January.

The protesters on Sunday rejected accusations that their rally was racist, chanting: "We fight against scum, not against Arabs!" and "We aren't thugs, we aren't racists!"

In Thursday's incident, the firefighters were ambushed by unidentified "hooded youths" with iron bars and baseball bats, French media report.

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