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Last Updated: Monday, 7 July, 2003, 15:35 GMT 16:35 UK
Analysis: Corsica's faultlines exposed

By Caroline Wyatt
BBC correspondent in Paris

Corsica's "non" in Sunday's referendum on whether to create a new regional assembly was a slap in the face for the French Government, most of the newspapers here agree.

Couple reading paper announcing result
The vote split the island down the middle
But it was also one for politicians on the island itself, where the referendum split both left and right, and nationalists and non-nationalists alike.

Opinion polls before the vote showed a narrow majority in favour, yet on the night itself the No camp won by a narrow margin of just under 2,000 votes.

So why did Jacques Chirac's government's vigorous campaign for a Yes vote on Corsica - supported by at least 80 local mayors - fail at the last minute?

There are widespread fears that the separatist campaign will not only continue, but will have been strengthened

There are many different answers, perhaps the main one being the many different interpretations on Corsica as to what the reform would mean.

The fact that a Yes vote was supported not only by the French Government but also by Corsican nationalists - who hoped the new assembly would be the first real step towards full independence - may have put some voters off the idea.

Many felt that the offer of a special assembly for Corsica was effectively giving in to terrorism, before the men of violence had put down their arms.

Rubble from destroyed holiday villa
There are fears of an upsurge in separatist violence
Others complained of confusion: they didn't know what the difference would be between the two current regional "departements" in the north and south of Corsica and the proposed single assembly, and some felt nobody had really explained what the changes would mean.

Another reason was a strong No vote among Corsican civil servants.

Some 40% of those on the island are employed directly by the French state, and there were fears among many bureaucrats that the creation of a new assembly would mean the loss of jobs, even though the Yes campaigners insisted the only job losses would come from natural wastage, not compulsory redundancies.

That was one reason for the strength of opposition in the main northern town of Bastia, where 70% voted against the plan; the new assembly would probably have been based in the capital Ajaccio in the south, where only 52% voted against.

Voters in the Corsican countryside were much more in favour of the reform than those in the towns, perhaps reflecting another divide on the island.

Farming and fishing are in steep decline, and many in the countryside had hoped that the new assembly, with one voice, would enable Corsica to attract new investment.

Bombing fears

Now, though, there are widespread fears that the separatist campaign will not only continue, but will have been strengthened.

Overnight on Sunday, four villas belonging to families on mainland France were blown up.

Yes 50.98%
No 49.02%
Turnout 60%
Separatist graffiti was scrawled around the scene, including graffiti praising Yvan Colonna, the Corsican arrested on the island just before the referendum.

He is one of the main suspects in the 1998 killing of the French Prefect or governor of the island, Claude Erignac, and is now in a Paris prison under judicial investigation.

His widely-publicised arrest on Friday night may well have influenced the vote, but opinion in France is split on whether it helped or hindered the Yes campaign.

There is a strong suspicion in mainland France that many on Corsica voted against the plan simply to irritate the French authorities and embarrass the ministers most closely associated with the Yes campaign.

For centuries, Corsicans have objected to being told what to do by their rulers - and it seems this referendum has again proved that point.

Chirac regrets Corsica vote
07 Jul 03  |  Europe
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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