Yvan Colonna, a jailed Corsican nationalist who had become a symbol for the Mediterranean island’s tensions with mainland France, died on Monday, succumbing to injuries suffered after being attacked in prison, French media reported.
Colonna’s death — the circumstances of which are yet to be clarified through a probe by France’s anti-terrorism prosecutors — comes less than three weeks before the first round of France’s presidential elections.
His death may revive long-standing tensions between Corsica and Paris.
“It is obvious that all the light must be shed (on what happened),” said Michel Castellani, a Corsican lawmaker in France’s National Assembly in an interview with Franceinfo radio on Tuesday. “Public opinion, just like myself, will be shocked that one can die this way.”
Gatherings to mourn Colonna on Monday evening in two Corsican towns passed off peacefully, local media reported.
Colonna was serving a life sentence at a prison in the southern French town of Arles for the 1998 murder of Claude Erignac, who as prefect of Corsica embodied the power of the French state on an island with a history of separatist violence.
Earlier this month, Colonna had been strangled by a fellow inmate, leaving the Corsican militant in a coma.
French prosecutors had launched a terrorism investigation, after the attack on Colonna.
Many people in Corsica have called for jailed Corsican nationalists to serve their prison time in Corsican jails, rather than on mainland France.
Protesters in Corsica attacked public buildings and threw projectiles at police after the attack on Colonna, prompting an emergency visit by French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin who said Paris would open up to discuss possibly autonomy for Corsica.
Roger Antech, the editor in chief of newspaper Corse Matin, told FranceInfo radio that he felt the situation in Corsica would be calm out of respect for Colonna’s family up until his burial, but following that there was “no guarantee as to what happens afterwards.”