Protests break out on French island

AJACCIO (France) • Dozens of angry Corsicans have staged fresh protests on the French Mediterranean island over an anti-Arab demonstration that vandalised a Muslim prayer hall and trashed copies of the Quran.

As condemnation poured in from Muslim authorities and French officials over last Friday's anti-Arab protests, around 100 demonstrators shouting "We're still here" turned out on Saturday in the same low-income neighbourhood of the capital Ajaccio, where the Christmas Day violence took place.

Despite a heavy police presence, one demonstrator managed to smash three glass entrance doors in the Jardins de l'Empereur housing estate, perched on an Ajaccio hillside, as protesters shouted "This is our home!"

Like the demonstration that ended in trouble the previous day, the protest had initially aimed to denounce violence against police and firefighters on the estate.

Two firefighters and a police officer were wounded in the neighbourhood overnight on Christmas Eve after a fire was "deliberately lit... to ambush police and firefighters", said regional official Francois Lalanne.

A firefighter at the scene said hooded youngsters who attacked shouted at them: "Scram, Corsicans, you're not at home here!"

On Friday, 600 people gathered in front of the police headquarters in Ajaccio in a show of support for the police and firefighters. But some 300 broke away to head for the housing estate.

Shouting xenophobic slogans, the group smashed a Muslim prayer room, partially burning books, including copies of the Quran, said Mr Lalanne.

Lying just off the coast of Italy, the island of 320,000 inhabitants was annexed in 1768. It elected a nationalist government after regional polls on Dec 13 handed power to a coalition that includes politicians campaigning for outright independence.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 28, 2015, with the headline 'Protests break out on French island'. Print Edition | Subscribe