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Last Updated: Monday, 7 July, 2003, 15:37 GMT 16:37 UK
Chirac regrets Corsica vote
Rubble of holiday villa
Four holiday homes were blown up after the vote
French President Jacques Chirac has expressed his regret that Corsican voters have rejected autonomy plans, warning that separatist violence will not be tolerated.

The Mediterranean island's 260,000 inhabitants voted by a tiny margin to reject the plans in a referendum on Sunday.

The Corsicans were being offered a new national assembly with tax-raising and greater control over public services, in a bid to end 30 years of separatist violence.

My priority in the months to come will be to ensure the security of the island and public order - the days of impunity are over
Nicolas Sarkozy
French Interior Minister
Amid fears of a fresh upsurge in unrest, four bombs exploded overnight on Sunday, destroying holiday homes belonging to French people from the mainland.

Even before the vote, separatist anger had been increased by the arrest of France's most wanted man, Yvan Colonna, just before the vote.

French Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy warned that his security forces would now get tough with separatists.

"My priority in the months to come will be to ensure the security of the island and public order," he said in a statement. "The state cannot be absent from Corsica. The days of impunity are over."

CORSICA VOTE
Yes 50.98%
No 49.02%
Turnout 60%

Mr Sarkozy had made eight visits to the island in the past 14 months to push for a Yes vote, and its rejection was seen as a personal blow to him.

Mr Chirac joined his interior minister in insisting that further unrest would be combated.

"The Corsicans did not agree to the proposal to reorganise the institutions of their region. This, I regret," he said in a statement.

Yvan Colonna is placed on a plane
Colonna's arrest angered some nationalists
"The future of the island depends on the nation's solidarity and the state's determination to confront all forms of violence."

French newspapers on Monday pointed to several factors which may have contributed to the No vote.

The arrest of Mr Colonna, which sparked fury among some separatist supporters, may have persuaded them to reject the plans as a sign of their anger.

The French battle over pension reforms may also have played a part. Mr Sarkozy said public sector officials had refused to support the plan in order to protest against the plans to make them work longer to claim a full pension.

We are now going to continue our fight for sovereignty and, eventually, independence
Paul Quastana
Corsica Nazione party

Another theory suggested that the public sector workers feared that their future careers could be limited by separation.

Other Corsicans feared that if they voted Yes, the assembly could be dominated by the separatists, even thought opinion polls show most on the island wish to remain French.

Independence campaigners said their battle for autonomy was not over.

"We are now going to continue our fight for sovereignty and, eventually, independence," said one separatist assembly member, Paul Quastana of the Corsica Nazione party.

The BBC's Caroline Wyatt in Paris says that, regardless of the result, many on Corsica hope the referendum has focused minds in Paris on the island's real needs.

Corsican 'Robin Hood'

She says some on the island believe it is no coincidence France was able to announce the capture of Mr Colonna just before the vote.

He was wanted in connection with the murder of the most senior French official on Corsica, Claude Erignac, in 1998.

The murder was the highest profile assassination by Corsican separatists. Eight other Corsicans are already on trial in Paris for aiding and abetting the murder.

The trial may now be suspended, days ahead of its anticipated end, so that it can restart with Mr Colonna joining the defendants in the dock.




WATCH AND LISTEN
Hugh Schofield reports
"It was a confused plan and far from clear how much autonomy would be given"



SEE ALSO:
Corsicans reject autonomy offer
06 Jul 03  |  Europe
Corsica seeks stake in future
05 Jul 03  |  Europe
The Corsican conundrum
09 Jul 99  |  Europe
Corsica's top official killed
06 Feb 98  |  Europe
Profile: Corsica
28 Jun 03  |  Country profiles


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