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Top Corsican nationalist killed

Santoni had started to openly denounce violence  

AJACCIO, Corsica -- One of Corsica's top nationalist figures, Francois Santoni, was shot dead early Friday at a wedding party in southern Corsica.

Santoni, 41, was shot in the head by a spray of automatic gunfire around 1 a.m. (2300 GMT) on Friday in the village of Monaccia d'Aullene, police said.

Two bodyguards accompanying the former nationalist leader returned fire, but the unidentified gunman escaped, The Associated Press reported.

A burned-out car, believed to be used by the gunman, was later found on a small road on the island, police told Reuters.

One of Corsica's best-known separatists, Santoni was former head of Cuncolta Naziunalista, the political party linked to the outlawed guerrilla group FLNC -- Front for the National Liberation of Corsica.

Corsica has been wracked by terrorism since 1976, a year after the founding of FLNC, which has been waging a militant campaign for more autonomy and aid from Paris.

The FLNC is one of several militant nationalist factions that want greater autonomy for the Mediterranean island -- which has been under French control since the 1700s -- without cutting ties with mainland France. The FLNC has claimed responsibility for dozens of bombings.

The assassination of Santoni comes one year after his friend Jean-Michel Rossi was shot dead outside a bar in Ille-Rousse.

Rossi, 44, and Santoni accused former associates of drug and arms trafficking in a book about the clandestine world of nationalists.

Santoni, who knew he was a target for revenge killing by nationalists, had taken a step back from political activism and had started to openly denounce violence.

He was found guilty on charges of attempted extortion last year and was appealing the decision.

He had also played a key role in talks between the FLNC and Paris over the last decade.

In May, the French National Assembly approved a bill presented by the left-wing government of Prime Minister Lionel Jospin to allow more independence in Corsica.

At the time, right-wingers called it a surrender to the violent extremists in Corsica.

The bill, expected to become a law early next year, will give Corsica's elected regional assembly special powers.

These include allowing the island to adapt some French laws voted by the national parliament in Paris. It also allows island schools to teach the Corsican language.

• The National Assembly
• Office of the French President
• The Prime Minister's Office
• Corsica Administration

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