Tensions are rising on the Mediterranean Island of Corsica, a province of France, where authorities have banned all public protest after a series of anti-Muslim demonstrations were triggered by attacks on police and Firemen in a primarily Muslim neighbourhood.
The unrest comes little more that a week after the “For Corsica” nationalistic coalition of parties swept to power in the Island’s local elections.
On Friday, a crowd of 600 gathered by a fire station in a show of support with the authorities, after two firefighters and a police officer were “ambushed” by “several hooded youths” in the low-income, primarily Arab, Jardins de l’Empereur housing estate in the capital of Ajaccio.
One of the firefighters at the scene had claimed the youths who attacked them shouted: “Scram, Corsicans, you’re not at home here!”
— Nacéra (@NasNacera) December 26, 2015
The protesters who gathered later that day chanted slogans in Corsican meaning “Arabs get out!” and “This is our home!” with a small break away group ransacking a local Muslim prayer room and burning copies of the Koran.
The French Prime Minister, Manuel Valls, wrote on Twitter that the attack on the prayer room was “an unacceptable desecration”, while also condemning the “intolerable attack” on the wounded firefighters.
Undeterred, protestors gathered on Christmas day and again last night at the spot where the fire fighters were injured.
They marched behind the “moors head” Corsican flag and shouted “We’re still here” and “We belong to this country, we want to live here”, before walking to other “sensitive areas” of the city as evening fell, an AFP correspondent reported.
Windows were smashed and property was damaged in the Jardins de l’Empereur housing estate. A garage was broken into, which was thought to belong to a drug dealer. “We’ve come to talk, to understand why they behave in this way,” one angry protestor told local reporters.
— Nacéra (@NasNacera) December 26, 2015
— il_vittogram (@vittobonfante) December 26, 2015
Today, AFP reported that security forces have now cordoned off the entire Jardins de l’Empereur estate, with Corsica’s administrator Christophe Mirmand confirming a ban on “all protests and gatherings”, which will be in effect until at least January 4th.
“It is an order that was taken last night as part of a state of emergency… Instigation of hatred is an offence that can lead to criminal proceedings,” he said, according to France Info.
Defiant, hundreds of protestors ignored the decree and threats of criminal prosecution and took to the streets once more today.
One female protestor at today’s march attacked mainstream media coverage of events. “On TV all we saw was the prayer room. What about the firefighters who were massacred? We don’t talk about them, these farther”, she told France 24.
— Tiffany Henne (@TiffanyHenne) December 27, 2015
The majority of foreign immigrants in Corsica are North African, primarily Moroccans, who made up 33.5 per cent of all immigrants in Corsica at the 2011 census.
Commentators have linked the tensions to rising anti-Muslim sentiments felt across France following the Islamist slaughter of 130 innocent people in Paris on November 13th.
The anti-immigration, nationalist ‘For Corsica’ coalition of parties won recent elections on the island just over a week ago, on the 22nd of December. The parties champion Corsican identity, independence from France and an end to mass-immigration.
Corsica experienced centuries of raids by Muslim pirates in the Middle Ages. The Italian kingdom of Genoa ruled it until 1755, when it won independence and installed the first fully democratic system of modern times, two decades before the United States.
The island, which is the birth place of Napoleon, was then conquered by France in 1769 but became independent again – declaring an unlikely “union” with Great Britain – from 1789 to 1796, after which it was once more annexed by France.