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Nationalism France Corsica Islamophobia Violence Racism Police Bernard Cazeneuve Christmas

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Two questioned over Corsica violence as demonstrations continue

Ajaccio's prosecutor Eric Bouillard (L) and Departemental Director of Public Safety (DDSP) Patrice Vaiente (R) at a press conferrence in Ajaccio on Sunday Yannick Graziani/AFP

Two young men have been detained in connection with the attack on firefighters that sparked Islamophobic protests on the French Mediterranean island of Corsica on Christmas Day. Police on Sunday prevented protesters entering the estate where a Muslim prayer room was trashed and Corsican nationalist politicians condemned the racist violence.

Two investigations have been started - one into the attack on firefighters and police on the Jardins de l'Empereur estate in the regional capital Ajaccio, the other into the attack on the prayer room that followed.

The first has already yielded results with two men in their 20s, who were already known to the police for minor offences, being taken into custody for questioning on Sunday.

They are suspected of being part of a group that apparently set a fire to attract the fire brigade and then attacked the fire engine that came with iron bars and baseball bats, injuring two firefighters and a police officer.

Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve promised that all those responsible for both incidents will be brought to justice on Sunday, while Christian Estrosi, the newly elected right-wing president of the Provence-Alpes-Côte-d'Azur region, called for "the people who attacked the firefighters to be severely punished".

Hundreds of people marched through housing estates in Ajaccio for the fourth day running on Sunday, although a heavy police presence enforced a ban on demonstrations in the Jardins de l'Empereur, which is home to some 1,700 people about half of them of immigrant origin.

After the previous chants of "Arabs out!" and "This is our home!", the crowd on Sunday chanted , chanting "We fight against scum, not against Arabs!" and "We aren't thugs, we aren't racists!".

The new president of Corsica's regional executive, Gilles Simeoni declared that xenophobia is the "polar opposite" of Corsican nationalism.

Nationalist parties won control of the region for the first time this month but Simeoni insisted there was no connection with the "outbursts of hatred", pointing out that there had been "gestures of solidarity", including young people going unbidden to help repair the prayer room.