Juppe cracks down on Corsican crime

The French prime minister, Alain Juppe, flies to Corsica today for a two-day visit that is being presented in Paris as proof of the Gaullist- led government's determination to get to grips with the island's economic and security problems.

Administered as an integral part of France, Corsica has been racked by violence for the past two decades, as anti-French separatism and organised crime have become increasingly interlinked. Two weeks ago, a car bomb explosion in the northern port city of Bastia killed one man - a known nationalist - and injured 15 others. It also shocked French opinion into realising how serious the law-and-order situation had become.

Now, after more than a year in office and repeated opposition criticism about inaction over Corsica, Mr Juppe is expected to announce a new twin- track strategy of tough law and order measures and economic assistance, designed to pre-empt a slide into clan rule.

The tone was set by Mr Juppe in a television interview 10 days ago, when he spoke of the need for "firmness" on law and order, and "imagination and boldness" on the economy. President Jacques Chirac re inforced the message in his Bastille Day interview, when, along with a call for political dialogue, he demanded action against anyone with illegal weapons. "When people accuse the state of closing its eyes to what is going on," he said, "my response is that the state has to open its eyes . . . things can't go on as they are."

The initiative has seen the dismissal, after only five months in office, of the chief of the island's police, who has been replaced with a tough- minded Corsican, Demetrius Dragacci. His promotion, it was hoped, would bring action and raise depressed morale in the island's police and judiciary. Within three days of the appointment, two nationalists were imprisoned for illegal possession of firearms and three more arrested - the first reported arrests for many months. While the law-and-order moves are seen in Paris and in non-nationalist quarters of Corsica as positive, there is widespread scepticism about the value of any economic measures Mr Juppe may announce.

Tourism, the island's main source of income, fell by more than 40 per cent in 1995, after a disastrous season punctuated by strikes, and is showing another this year of 15 per cent. The main economic measure is expected to be the conversion of the island to a tax-free zone. But officials say that, while adjustments may be made to tax rates linked to tourism, high French VAT rates will remain.

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