Ripples from Corsica Sarkozy Accused of Interference After Police Chief Fired

French President Nicolas Sarkozy has come under fire from the opposition after the Corsican police chief was demoted. The officer had failed to prevent a demonstration at the villa of an actor -- who happens to be close friends with the president.

Sarkozy with his friend Christian Clavier.

Sarkozy with his friend Christian Clavier.

The incident on Saturday had been relatively harmless. A group of Corsican nationalists had invaded the lawn of a rich French villa owner and demonstrated for an hour before heading home. The event however is having deep political repercussions, far away in Paris.

The villa is owned by Christian Clavier, who happens to be a close friend of President Nicolas Sarkozy and by Monday the Corsican police chief, Dominique Rossi, had been fired. Now French opposition politicians are crying foul, accusing the president of inappropriate interference on behalf of a friend.

On Saturday evening dozens of nationalists had invaded Clavier's holiday villa to protest the "colonization" of the Mediterranean island by French holidaymakers, something that they had done before. Clavier was not present but he was alerted by his staff and he ordered them to serve drinks to the demonstrators who soon left the premises.

Clavier, a comic actor who played Asterix in two of the Gallic hero's film adventures, is close to the president and was one of the select group of friends who were invited to celebrate Sarkozy's 2007 election victory at Fouquet's, an exclusive Paris restaurant.

According to French media reports, Sarkozy called his friend after the incident and said: "It is out of the question that you would have to pay for our friendship." On Monday evening the Corsican police was informed that he was being demoted. The French Interior Ministry said on Tuesday that this was because of an "error in judgement" on the part of Rossi, who decided not to intervene even though security services had known that an occupation was likely.

Centerist politician Francois Bayrou lashed out at the decision, seeing the "prince's hand" in the affair. "It says a lot about the regime we're in," he told France Info radio on Tuesday. "It's a ruling from on high. These are arbitrary and disproportionate decisions which show where you get to when all powers are concentrated in the same hands."

The Socialist leader Francois Hollande said the firing of Rossi required an explanation. "In matters of security there cannot be some citizens who are more protected than others," he told Europe 1 radio on Tuesday.

Police representatives were also incensed. Union official Emmanuel Roux said that Rossi was a highly respected and experienced officer, who had acted appropriately and should not have been sacked. "There was no mistake, there was no damage, the demonstration passed off well," he told France Info. He added that if Rossi had sent in the riot police then the demonstrators could have acted violently. The independence movement in Corsica has been known to resort to violence, including fire bombings.

Rossi, who has now been transferred to the police's internal inspectorate, is credited with a decline in the number of violent incidents on the island and the break-up of an important cell of armed Corsican nationalists.

He was awarded the prestigious Legion of Honor in January but the presentation -- by President Sarkozy -- has not yet taken place.

smd -- with wire reports


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