Corsica police chief fired after security breach at star's home

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President Nicolas Sarkozy was accused of high-handed cronyism today after a veteran police chief was sacked for failing to stop a demonstration at the Corsican holiday villa of a popular French actor.

The protest by Corsican nationalists passed off without incident on Saturday at the home of Christian Clavier, who is best known outside France for playing the moustachioed hero of the first two Asterix movies.

Clavier, a close friend of the President, told his staff to serve drinks to the demonstrators, who left after 20 minutes without causing any damage.

Nonetheless, the French government announced today that it had dismissed Dominique Rossi, the much-respected head of all security forces on the island. M. Rossi, 59, was accused of ignoring an intelligence tip-off that the separatists – protesting against the “colonisation” of Corsica by rich tourists – intended to invade an enclave of millionaires’ holiday homes at Punto d’Oro, near Porto-Vecchio.

Bomb and machine-gun attacks on empty foreign, or French-owned, villas in Corsica are almost a weekly occurrence. The firing of a police chief for a brief, peaceful demonstration in the garden of a luxury villa is, to say the least, bizarre. The incident was seized upon today by opposition politicians, who have objected in the past to President Sarkozy’s close friendships with the French glitterati. François Bayrou, a failed centrist presidential candidate last year, said: “This tells us a lot about the regime we’re in. It’s a princely ruling from on high.”

Police unions also protested against what they saw as the high-handed dismissal of a senior police officer who had made the right decision, not the wrong one. To have banned or blocked the demonstration might have provoked anger and violence, they said. Emmanuel Roux, leader of one of France’s biggest police unions, said: “There was no mistake. There was no damage. The demonstration passed off well.”

Corsican police officers said, off the record, that they were “sickened” and “disgusted” by the “arbitrary” dismissal of a man credited with easing the violent tensions on the island.

M. Rossi, born in Corsica and a fluent speaker of the Corsican language, was appointed “security co-ordinator” – head of both the police and gendarmerie on the island – in November 2005. Since then separatist-related explosions and shootings have fallen from 900 a year to just over 100.

The interior ministry in Paris announced today that he was being removed from his post for an “error of judgement” and transferred to the national police unit which investigates alleged crimes by police officers.

Clavier is one of the most popular comic actors in France. His only Corsican connection – other than his holiday villa – is to have played the Corsican-born Emperor Napoleon in a television mini series five years ago. Clavier is claimed by M. Sarkozy as one of his “closest friends”. He is one of a group of entertainment stars and business multi-millionaires who frequently socialise with M. Sarkozy – leading to him being dubbed a “bling-bling President” last year.

The actor was not in Corsica during the demonstration and seems unperturbed by it. When contacted by his caretaker, he suggested that the protesters be served drinks in his garden.

Corsican nationalists this year forced one bank offering investment packages to foreign home-buyers to abandon its campaign after threats of violence.