France’s interior minister sought Wednesday to halt violence and ease tensions in Corsica after protesters vandalized a Muslim prayer room in anger over an ambush of firefighters.
The incidents last week on the Mediterranean island reflect broader religious and social tensions around France after a year marred by extremist attacks by a few angry young French Muslims.
Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve, visiting the Corsican city of Ajaccio on Wednesday, told reporters “there is no place in Corsica for violence or racism.”
“Our country, in the face of … terrorism and the divisions it creates, has a great need for respect,” he said.
An ambush Thursday injured two firefighters responding to an emergency in a housing project. The reason for the attack remains unclear, though crime is widespread in France’s housing projects, where many poor young men of North African or other minority heritage harbor deep suspicions toward police and the government.
The next day, hundreds of Corsicans demonstrated peacefully against the violence. But then a few dozen protesters, assuming that the assailants were Muslims, broke away and tried to burn Qurans in a Muslim prayer room and vandalized a kebab shop.
Cazeneuve said two people have been handed preliminary charges in the ambush of firefighters, but did not identify them. A judicial inquiry is under way into all the violence around Ajaccio last week.
“The attacks and threats that target our compatriots of the Muslim faith are inadmissible,” he said. “The people they are aimed at, many of whom were born here and deeply love this island, do not feel less Corsican than those who adhere to this discourse of hate.”
Cazeneuve and Prime Minister Manuel Valls sought to quash any link between the incidents and separatist sentiment in Corsica, which has long had a tense relationship with Paris.
Valls said Corsica’s place within France “will never be negotiable.”