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France to discuss Corsica 'autonomy' after violent protests, says interior minister

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By AFP  with Euronews
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Protesters have rallied outside prefectures in several cities in Corsica.
Protesters have rallied outside prefectures in several cities in Corsica.   -   Copyright  PASCAL POCHARD-CASABIANCA / AFP

French Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin said the country is prepared to discuss the "autonomy" of Corsica following violent clashes.

Darmanin arrived on the Mediterranean island on Wednesday in an effort to restore calm after several days of riots.

Protesters have clashed with police officers for several days after a pro-independence figure was attacked in a French prison.

Darmanin will meet with elected representatives in Corsica has promised an "unprecedented round of discussions" to resolve the matter.

“We are ready to go as far as autonomy – there you go, the word has been said,” he earlier said in an interview with Corse Matin.

Gilles Simeoni, the president of the executive council of Corsica, has welcomed the offer but says Darmanin's words need to be "followed up and given concrete form".

Anger in Corsica erupted after a convicted murderer and independentist Yvan Colonna was attacked in a French mainland prison in Arles.

Colonna -- who is serving a life sentence for the 1998 killing of French prefect Claude Érignac -- was left in a coma after being assaulted by another prisoner.

Students, nationalist organisations, and trade unions in Corsica have accused the state of bearing responsibility. Colonna has long appealed to be moved back to prison in Corsica.

France has removed the prisoner's status as a "detainee of particular concern" (DPS) but the move has failed to appease protesters.

A total of 102 people -- including 77 police officers -- were injured in fierce clashes on Sunday in the city of Bastia.

On Wednesday, several public buildings were occupied by demonstrators, some carrying anti-government slogans.

Darmanin has acknowledged that the is a "share of state responsibility" in Colonna's attack, but says the criticism of protesters has been "excessive".

The decision to loosen France's historic control of Corsica -- an island of around 330,000 people -- would be unprecedented.

Officials in Corsica have pointed out the successful example of the Azores islands, which maintains autonomy from Portugal.

But pro-independence activists have called for France to allow Corsica to have more control over its taxation, employment and language.

"The only autonomy that is worthwhile is one that grants legislative power [in] vital areas," said Josepha Giacometti, the only pro-independence member of the Corsican assembly.

The decision to offer Corsica "autonomy" is also likely to affect the French presidential election, with less than one month to go until the first round of voting.

Green presidential candidate Yannick Jadot said on Wednesday he was in favour of "full autonomy" for Corsica, while far-right National Rally candidate Marine Le Pen said the island "must remain French".