French security forces will show “zero tolerance” on gun possession in Corsica after a flare-up of violence on the Mediterranean island, President Nicolas Sarkozy said.
“I understand the attachment of Corsicans to hunting but there are guns in their possession that are not tolerable,” he said after a meeting in Ajaccio with Interior Minister Claude Gueant, Justice Minister Michel Mercier and local police officials. “There is a level of arms possession in Corsica that doesn’t come close to anywhere in France.”
Corsica, with a population of 300,000, has seen six murders so far this year -- including three in the last 15 days -- and 22 for all of last year, a homicide rate seven times that of mainland France. The murders have been linked to score-settling among local criminal gangs, rather than to the island’s on- again-off-again separatist movement, according to local newspapers such as Corse-Matin.
Sarkozy said the distinction isn’t always clear. “It’s not as if on the one side are greedy criminals only after money and on the other, assassins with convictions,” he said.
Hunting rifles are legal in France for those with permits. Handguns and automatic weapons are available on the black market and are used increasingly by gangs in Corsica and Marseille. The island’s murder rate hit a peak in 2001 with 55 deaths.
“What has happened in the past 15 days in Corsica is intolerable,” Sarkozy said in an interview with Corse-Matin today. “The state will never deal with those who carry out criminal violence. I will not allow Corsica to live a new wave of violence.”
Sarkozy, who is in Corsica campaigning for re-election, reverted to being president for the meeting with Gueant and Mercier. He holds a rally this evening in Ajaccio, the island’s biggest city.
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