Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin is set to fly to Corsica on Wednesday afternoon after two weeks of growing tensions between the French state and Corsican nationalists.
In an interview with local paper Corse-Matin published on Wednesday morning, Mr Darmanin opened the door to a dramatic shift in policy on Corsican affairs.
He said: “I see many presidential candidates are in favour of an institutional change for Corsica? Some are talking about a new stage in the decentralization process.”
Mr Darmanin added “we are ready to go as far as autonomy” under the condition that violent protesting stops.
The negotiations would take place during Emmanuel Macron’s second mandate, if he wins re-election.
Problems on the large Mediterranean island erupted after Yvan Colonna, a shepherd and nationalist convict, was assaulted on March 2 by another inmate in the prison in Arles, in mainland France.
The assault on Mr Colonna left him in a coma and provided the spark for the current series of often violent protests.
The convict was sentenced to life in prison for the 1998 assassination of Claude Erignac, the official who represented the French state on the island at the time
Demonstrations and riots have been continuing since the attack on Mr Colonna, which protesters blamed on the French government.
Corsica politicians have warned if Mr Colonna dies, the violence could explode into a “generalised revolt”.
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Thousands have taken to the streets, with placards at demonstrations at the weekend saying “French government murderers”.
Hundreds of hooded protesters have thrown projectiles, molotov cocktails and homemade explosive devices at police and public buildings.
Prosecutors said 102 people, including 77 police were injured on Sunday during clashes in Corsica’s second-largest city, Bastia.
The chief prosecutor of Bastia told AFP the city had witnessed “extremely violent” scenes and the SG police union said officers were dealing with a “quasi-insurrectional” situation.
At least 7,000 people, equivalent to one in nine of the town’s population, laid siege to government buildings.
The prefecture, the local tax office and the post office were all set alight, and more than 650 Molotov cocktails, as well as pétanque balls and agricultural bird-scaring rockets, were hurled or fired at riot police.
Officers replied with more than 4,000 stun grenades, before running out of ammunition and being forced to retreat to their barracks. One gendarme was shot in the neck with a hunting rifle.
It is unprecedented for a French government minister to suggest offering autonomy for Corsica, an island of 330,000 people.
The 40-year Corsican “national liberation” campaign of bombing and violence targeting French infrastructure, calmed in 2014 when armed separatists announced an “end to military operations”.
Since then, Corsican nationalists seeking greater autonomy from the French state have been boosted by election successes at local and regional levels.
Mr Macron is seen as having failed to move on the issue during his presidency, and autonomist and nationalist Corsicans alike are frustrated that the issue of reforming the island’s status has been paused since 2018.
An Ifop poll published on Sunday in Corse Matin found that 53 percent of those questioned favoured a degree of autonomy for Corsica.
Another 35 percent favour Corsica’s outright independence from France.
Valérie Pécresse, Les Républicains’ nominee for President, said Mr Darmanin’s offer showed Mr Macron “gives in to violence”.
She said public order must be restored in Corsica before any negotiations take place.