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Corsica: Why France’s ‘Island of Beauty’ is not the new Catalonia

Nationalist gains at the ballot box in Corsica may have earned the French island comparisons with Catalonia, but even its hardcore separatists admit that breaking away is a distant dream.

Nationalist gains at the ballot box in Corsica may have earned the French island comparisons with Catalonia, but even its hardcore separatists admit that breaking away is a distant dream.

The ruling alliance of separatists and pro-autonomy candidates took 45 percent of the vote in last weekend's first round of regional elections, advances they look set to cement in Sunday's final round.

The score represents a ten-point rise in the Pe a Corsica (“For Corsica”) alliance's showing when they came to power at the local level two years ago on the island where Napoleon was born.

Like Spain's Catalonia, the stunningly beautiful island wedged between France and Italy has its own language, a proud identity and a history of testy relations with the central government.

But wh..

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Nationalist gains at the ballot box in Corsica may have earned the French island comparisons with Catalonia, but even its hardcore separatists admit that breaking away is a distant dream.

Nationalist gains at the ballot box in Corsica may have earned the French island comparisons with Catalonia, but even its hardcore separatists admit that breaking away is a distant dream.

The ruling alliance of separatists and pro-autonomy candidates took 45 percent of the vote in last weekend's first round of regional elections, advances they look set to cement in Sunday's final round.

The score represents a ten-point rise in the Pe a Corsica ("For Corsica") alliance's showing when they came to power at the local level two years ago on the island where Napoleon was born.

Like Spain's Catalonia, the stunningly beautiful island wedged between France and Italy has its own language, a proud identity and a history of testy relations with the central government.

But while the Catalan separatists led by Carles Puigdemont went as far as a full-blown independence declaration, Corsican nationalists are sticking to more modest goals.

Energised by last weekend's gains to push for more autonomy, they have already revived three demands long rejected by Paris.

They want equal recognition for the Corsican language and an amnesty for convicts they consider to be political prisoners.

And they want the state to recognise a special Corsican residency status — partly an effort to fight property speculation fuelled by foreigners snapping up holiday homes.

These are sensitive issues on an island where a four-decade bombing campaign by the National Liberation Front of Corsica (FLNC) — mainly targeting state infrastructure — was called off only in 2014.

The worst nationalist attack saw France's top official on the island, Claude Erignac, assassinated in 1998.

Nationalism, the new normal

Calm returned when the FLNC laid down its weapons — which, according to political analyst Jerome Fourquet, has helped to "normalise nationalism".

The nationalists have become "a responsible, presentable political force", Fourquet wrote in a report for the Jean Jaures Foundation.

As part of this more moderate approach, nationalists assure that an immediate independence bid is not on the table.

Even separatist leader Jean-Guy Talamoni — nicknamed by some "the Corsican Puigdemont" — suggests the island would split from France in 10 or 15 years at the earliest, if a majority supported it.

Yet opinion polls show that most of Corsica's 330,000 residents, many of whom live off seasonal tourism and rely heavily on state subsidies, want to stay part of France.

Even in the northern village of Belgodere, where nationalists scored 90.22 percent last Sunday, the result was largely a reflection of local problems.

"I'm not voting out of political allegiance, or for autonomy or independence," said Jean-Paul Pernet, the village's only doctor, who backed
the nationalists.

He voted, he said, "for people who will bring concrete plans" to rural areas that feel isolated and neglected by authorities.

Much poorer than Catalonia

The nationalists' opponents have repeatedly raised the prospect of Corsica being "the next Catalonia".

But Andre Fazi, a politics lecturer at Corsica University, dismissed a Catalonia-style independence bid as a "fantasy".

For Thierry Dominici, a Corsica specialist at the University of Bordeaux, the main barrier to independence is the island's heavy economic dependence on
the mainland.

That is not the case for Catalonia, where chief among many separatists' complaints is that their wealthy region, representing a fifth of Spain's economic output, does not get enough back for what it pays into national coffers.

Corsica, by contrast, represents just 0.4 percent of the French economy, suffering from higher unemployment and poverty rates than the mainland.

"An economically viable Corsica — I don't think we'll see it in my lifetime," Dominici said.

"Even in terms of constitutional law, it's a completely different situation," he added.

While Catalonia already enjoys widespread autonomy in policy areas such as health, education and policing, "France is the most centralised unitary state
in Europe," Dominici said.

Even hardline Corsican separatists like the small U Rinnovu party have limited themselves to pushing for an independence referendum in 2032.

But there are keen expectations in the nationalist camp that their election gains could build momentum for greater autonomy.

"The state has everything to gain in responding to at least one of their three demands," Dominici said.

"If it does nothing, the islanders will take to the streets. The nationalists won't even have to ask them to do it."

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Spain

Man jailed for WhatsApp threats to kill Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez

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A man has been sentenced to seven-and-a-half years in prison for threatening to kill Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez.

Manuel Murillo Sanchez was found guilty by Spain’s National Court of preparing to commit assassination and illegal weapons offences.

The 65-year-old former security guard from Tarrasa was arrested in 2018 after making deaths threats in a WhatsApp group.

The court heard how Murillo Sanchez had offered to act as a “sniper” and “hunt down” the Spanish PM “like a deer”.

The suspect’s comments came after the Spanish government had ordered for the remains of former dictator Francisco Franco to be exhumed.

The court rejected his defence that he had been intoxicated when sending the WhatsApp messages and sentenced him to two years and six months in prison for attempted murder.

He was also given a five-year sentence for possessing illegal weapons and banned from owning any firearms for eight years. The verdict is subject to appeal.

The remains of Franco were removed to a cemetery on the outskirts of Madrid in October 2019, prompting anger from far-right groups in Spain.

In a WhatsApp group, Murillo Sanchez had allegedly told fellow users that he was a “sniper with a precise shot” who could target Prime Minister Sanchez.

“We cannot allow them to humiliate Generalissimo Francisco Franco … If necessary, I will go armed and sit on Franco’s tomb, and if they come close, I will shoot”, he reportedly wrote.

The court said the man’s “determination” and the number of weapons seized from him shows “a high level of danger” even if he had not made any specific plans to kill the Spanish PM.

The suspect had repeatedly expressed “his intention to finish off the president of the government” to “bring about a change in the Spanish political situation”, a court statement read.

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Barcelona seeks to ban smoking on all beaches, after positive pilot scheme

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Barcelona City Council is seeking to ban smoking on all of the city’s 10 beaches from this July, following a successful pilot scheme that was carried out on four beaches last summer.

‘The measure aims to facilitate healthier places to live together, with less waste and respect for the environment,’ the council said.

It said that there was a ‘good reception’ to the pilot test of smokeless beaches carried out last year, and which was assessed positively by the public with a score of 8.2 points out of 10. It also resulted in ‘a significant reduction of highly polluting cigarette butts abandoned in the sand’, the council added, resulting in the authorities pushing for an extension of the ban on all 10 beaches of Barcelona’s coastline for this summer.

The council said on Friday that it would be launching a campaign this month to inform residents of the new measure, as well as spreading awareness of its benefits. When the restriction comes into effect in July, it will be monitored by the Barcelona Public Health Agency (ASPB).

Last summer smoking was prohibited on four of the ten beaches in Barcelona (Sant Miquel, Somorrostro, Nova Icària and Nova Mar Bella) from 29 May until 12 September. The regulations last year did not allow Barcelona City Council to actually apply sanctions, but bathers could be told to stop smoking by police officers, and if they then refused to do so, they could have faced fines for disobedience.

According to reports, only 2.6% of beach-goers defied the ban at the four beaches last summer, whilst 19% of those at the city’s other six beaches smoked.

The campaign last year highlighted that 13.8% of deaths annually in Barcelona are attributed to tobacco consumption – some 2,200 people. The campaign also focused on the danger of second-hand smoke, considered particularly harmful for children. A study last year revealed that more than 135,000 cases of respiratory diseases and over 3,000 hospitalisations in children aged under 12 in Spain are attributed to passive smoking.

According to the National Committee for the Prevention of Smoking, approximately five billion cigarette butts end up in the sea each year. Discarded cigarettes contain substances such as cadmium, iron, arsenic, nickel, copper, zinc, or manganese – some of which are toxic to both human and marine life.

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Body of US software mogul John McAfee still in Barcelona morgue, seven months after his death

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The body of American anti-virus developer John McAfee remains in a morgue in the Barcelona City of Justice complex, in the northeastern Spanish region of Catalonia, seven months after his death. It is currently located in the Legal Medicine Institute (Imelec), a grey building with honeycomb windows, while a judge has been preparing a report on his death.

That report, released this week, has determined that the software mogul died by suicide in his prison cell in Barcelona province on June 23, 2021 as he awaited extradition to the United States on charges of failing to file US tax returns from 2014 to 2018.

The 75-year-old’s family had raised questions about the circumstances of his death, even though an autopsy concluded that McAfee hung himself inside his cell at Brians 2 penitentiary in Sant Esteve Sesrovires. Prison workers found a suicide note in the pocket of his pants.

The months-long investigation is not quite over yet, as lawyers for McAfee’s family have appealed the Spanish judge’s decision to provisionally close the case. The provincial court of Barcelona must now decide whether to confirm the judge’s decision or order him to keep the investigation open. The family has argued that the autopsy was incomplete and lacked the “basic elements” to draw definitive conclusions about the cause of death, according to defense sources.

The building in Martorell (Barcelona) that houses the court that’s been investigating the case has so many structural deficiencies that in 2019, Spain’s legal watchdog, the General Council of the Judiciary (CGPJ), ordered two courtrooms closed because of safety hazards. The legal staff in this building is also dealing with a severe backlog of work, which partially explains the delay in concluding the McAfee investigation.

The cybersecurity entrepreneur’s family was very critical of the process from the beginning. His ex-wife, Janice McAfee, traveled to Barcelona and met with three prison officials at Brians 2, but she remained unconvinced by their explanations and questioned the suicide hypothesis. “The last thing he told me was ‘I love you and I’ll call you this evening. Those are not the words of someone who is suicidal’,” she said at the time.

Clear case

But medical experts who examined the body always believed it was a clear case of suicide. McAfee was found hanging from his cell, where he had asked to spend time. He was in pre-trial detention after being charged with tax evasion by the United States. He had been in prison for more than eight months while Spain’s High Court, the Audiencia Nacional, considered the extradition request for failing to file tax returns between 2014 and 2018. On Wednesday morning, McAfee’s lawyers told him that the court had decided to approve his extradition to the US and in the afternoon he killed himself, according to the investigation.

McAfee was the creator of one of the most popular antivirus software programs on the market and was considered a genius in the tech world. His life, however, was plagued by controversy. In 2012, McAfee was named a person of interest by authorities in Belize investigating the murder of his neighbor, but he never faced trial because he fled before he could be questioned. When the coronavirus pandemic hit, McAfee was in Spain’s Catalonia region, where he spent most of the lockdown. Authorities believe he lived in a semi-abandoned hotel in Cambrils called Daurada Park Hotel. Two years earlier, during an administrative inspection, the Catalan police had discovered a cryptocurrency operation in the basement of the hotel.

In July 2021 Spain’s National Police were notified by Interpol about the charges for tax evasion and arrested him on October 3 at Barcelona’s El Prat airport as he was about to fly to Istanbul. The court’s extradition decision, however, could have been appealed, and McAfee’s defense was already working on this process.

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