Corsican leader who exposed secrets of nationalists is shot dead after wedding

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A former militant leader who published a tell-all book exposing the secrets of Corsica's shadowy separatist movement was shot dead yesterday in the south of the island.

François Santoni, 41, was killed in a spray of automatic gunfire at about 12:40am as he left a wedding celebration in the village of Monaccia d'Aullene.

The groom was also shot in the lower leg and slightly injured. It was unclear whether others at the wedding were hurt – including Santoni's two bodyguards, a female companion, and his father.

Access to the village was not restricted, but police cordoned off the area where the victim's body layafter the attack.

Santoni, nicknamed "The Iguana", was a well-known figure in Corsica, where separatists have waged a violent campaign for greater autonomy from mainland France since the mid-Seventies. Implicated in numerous violent attacks, Santoni renounced violence late in his career, and was even quoted as saying the battle for Corsican independence was destined to fail.

Santoni was the former head of A Cuncolta Naziunalista, the political party linked to the Front for the National Liberation of Corsica, one of the French Mediterranean island's leading nationalist groups. Santoni parted ways with the group, which adopted increasingly hard-line positions, about three years ago.

He also wrote a book with Jean-Michel Ross exposing the clandestine world of nationalists. Ross was shot dead with his bodyguard outside a café in northern Corsica a year ago.

In June, Santoni published a second book that dealt with the assassination of Claude Erignac, France's highest official on the island until he was murdered in 1998 in Ajaccio, the island's capital.

Successive French governments have worked without success to end a quarter century of violence by separatists in Corsica.

Prime Minister Lionel Jospin, opened negotiations with Corsican politicians, including nationalists, more than a year ago, in an attempt to reach a deal to help end the Mafia-style killings and violence that often shake the island. Many Corsicans see their home as culturally distinct from France, which has governed the island since 1763, but most oppose independence.