French President Emmanuel Macron has arrived to Corsica while thousands of Corsicans took to the streets to demand greater autonomy for their small Mediterranean island ahead of the possibly contentious two-day visit.
Macron’s arrival on the island on Tuesday coincides with the 20th anniversary of the assassination of France’s top official in Corsica.
The French president attended a ceremony honoring the murdered prefect, Claude Erignac, before launching into closed-door talks with the leaders of the island’s regional administration.
The trip could be an uncomfortable one for the young president, whose government ruled out any major concessions on Corsican autonomy after the island’s nationalists won a regional election in December. The Pe a Corsica (For Corsica) coalition, which controls two-thirds of the seats in Corsica’s new regional council, have called for Corsican to be recognized as the island’s official language, and have sought control over local budgets.
Corsican authorities say 6,000 people took part in the nationalist protests that were held on Saturday in the island’s capital, Ajaccio, while organizers put the figure at 25,000.
The demonstration began with a march featuring young girls wearing Corsican flags over their shoulders, as the crowd chanted “long live the independence struggle” and “killer French state” in Corsican, according to media reports.
“We are protesting because Corsica is being held hostage by France. Because currently everything is being decided by officials in Paris,” a demonstrator told RT.
“We’re Corsicans. Yes, of course we are French – but we are Corsicans, too. They should recognize that,” said another protester.
Macron claims he is open to “possible changes” but that they would have to be implemented “within the framework of the constitution,” noting that “this republican framework does not allow us to say ‘yes’ to certain demands, such as on residency rights or recognizing Corsican as the official language alongside French.”
Unlike Catalonia, Corsica does not seek full independence. Rather, it hopes for greater autonomy and self-governance, while remaining part of the French Republic.