PARIS – France’s President Emmanuel Macron began his visit to Corsica on Tuesday by inaugurating a monument commemorating a local politician who 20 years ago was assassinated by a pro-separatist militant group on the French island, which has recently witnessed a resurgence in regional nationalism and calls for increased autonomy from France.
Macron delivered a strongly worded speech at a square dedicated to Claude Érignac, which is located in the spot where the politician, a former prefect for the south Corsica department, was fatally shot by a nationalist militant as he exited a theater in the regional capital Ajaccio.
“What happened here on Feb. 6, 1998 cannot be justified, cannot be pleaded, cannot be explained. It was an assassination,” Macron said. “They killed a man because he was a servant of the Republic. They snatched the life of a husband and a father to a wife and two children,” he added.
The political assassination, the first in France since the end of World War II, sent shock waves through the country and prompted widespread protests and condemnation at a time of increased pro-separatist terror activity in Corsica.
Yvan Colonna, a member of an extremist militant faction of the National Liberation Front of Corsica, was convicted of Érignac’s murder and sentenced to life imprisonment.
Alongside Érignac’s widow, Macron lay flowers at a commemorative plaque erected in Érignac’s name.
On a more reconciliatory note, the president highlighted the important role Corsica has played in France’s history and recalled that the Mediterranean island was the first territory to be liberated from the Nazis in WWII.
The head of the regional government Gilles Simeoni, a nationalist and Colonna’s former defense lawyer, attended the ceremony.
Macron is due to meet with Simeoni and fellow nationalist Jean-Guy Talamoni, president of the Corsican regional assembly, later Tuesday.
A regional nationalist majority in the local parliament has bolstered a campaign for further autonomy from mainland France, which could prove to be a tricky issue for Macron as he sits down with the separatist figureheads.