New turn of Corsican violence alarms Paris

In words that have a familiar and awful resonance in Britain and Northern Ireland, the mayor of Bastia in northern Corsica called on the French authorities yesterday to stop "getting lost in negotiations with this or that armed band. Respect the rule of law and disarm the armed groups - all armed groups."

The mayor, Emile Zuccarelli, was speaking the day after a powerful car bomb exploded in the picturesque old port area of his city, killing one person and injuring 15, two seriously.

Three of the victims, including the man killed, Pierre Louis Lorenzi, 34, were known members of Cuncolta, the legal political front for one of Corsica's most hardline nationalist movements, the FLNC.

Charles Pieri, 46, who was very seriously injured, is a co-founder of the FLNC. He is regarded as the main target of the attack.

The bomb was planted in a Citroen parked in front of the offices of the security firm they ran. In a pattern repeated time and again, the car had been stolen the previous day and parked close to its target. The bomb is believed to have been activated by a remote control.

Although Corsica has been wracked by violence in recent years, this attack - which took place on Monday afternoon, at the start of the tourist season - was immediately condemned on the island and in Paris as a new and dangerous departure.

Until now, attacks have been "targeted" at people or buildings deemed to be directly involved in the conflict.

Monday's bomb is regarded as the first intended to injure indiscriminately. Among those hurt were people who had been sitting in seafront bars and passers-by, including a 14-year-old boy and two retired people.

Yesterday, the scenes of blood and destruction in Bastia were being compared with the aftermath of car bombs in Lebanon and Algeria, places that have historical and current significance in France.

In Paris, the Interior Minister, Jean-Louis Debre, called such violence "intolerable".

He promised to send in a unit of special paramilitary police. In another sign of firmness, the head of the anti-terrorist section of the French police, Irene Stoller, was immediately dispatched to Bastia to head the investigation in person.

The atmosphere in Bastia was one of shock and dismay as the implications of the attack sank in. The killing brought the number of people killed directly in terrorist attacks in Corsica to 20 in less than two years.

As worrying for many Corsicans is the extent to which the island now seems governed by the gun rather than by law. Many Corsicans blame inaction and wheeler-dealing by French authorities for this situation.

A visit to the island last January from the interior minister, Jean- Louis Debre was thoroughly eclipsed by the FLNC, which staged a night- time encounter with 600 armed guerrillas in a mountain hide-out for the benefit of the French press.

The Prime Minister, Alain Juppe, denied that Paris was involved in deals with the terrorists. But this was the only way many people could explain the fact that the FLNC's show of strength had gone unpunished.

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