Dozens of angry Corsicans staged a fresh protest on the French Mediterranean island yesterday, a day after demonstrators vandalised a Muslim prayer hall and trashed copies of the Qur’an after an assault on firefighters.
As condemnation poured in from Muslim authorities and French officials over Friday’s anti-Arab protests, around 100 demonstrators shouting “We’re still here” turned out 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 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 youths who attacked the officers shouted at them: “Scram, Corsicans, you’re not at home here!”
On Friday afternoon, 600 people had gathered in front of 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 “Arabs get out!” or “This is our home!” the group smashed a Muslim prayer room, partially burning books including copies of the Qur’an, said Lalanne.
French Prime Minister Manuel Valls wrote on Twitter that the break-in was “an unacceptable desecration”, while also condemning the “intolerable attack” on the wounded firefighters.
Anouar Kbibech, president of the French Council of the Muslim Faith (CFCM), said he had learnt of the mosque attack and the burning of “several copies of the Qur’an” with “distress”.
French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said the attack on the Muslim prayer hall showed signs of “racism and xenophobia”.
He also condemned the assault on law enforcement and safety officers in Corsica, saying he hoped “the authors of the violence would be identified and arrested as soon as possible”.
Local authorities including Christophe Mirmand, the prefect or top official of Corsica, also vowed to arrest those responsible for the outbreak of violence over two days on the Mediterranean island.
The Christmas violence came amid heightened security measures for the season in France after the November 13 attacks by jihadists in Paris that killed 130 people.
Dalil Boubakeur, the rector of the Grand Mosque of Paris, said he was “dismayed and saddened” by the events on Corsica in an appearance on France’s BFMTV, calling for “calm and cool heads”.
Around 120,000 French police, members of armed units and soldiers were mobilised on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.
Corsica is a department of France which held regional elections earlier this month, which had seen the far-right anti-immigrant Front National make unprecedented gains in the first round of the vote.
On Corsica the nationalists won the regional election there taking power for the first time.
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