French President Emmanuel Macron on Wednesday gave little ground to Corsica's nationalist politicians on several of their demands for greater autonomy, including recognition for the local language.
Addressing the nationalists during his two-day visit to the Mediterranean island, Macron offered to add a special mention of Corsica into the French constitution, one of their long-standing demands.
"I want us to open a new chapter of our history," Macron told Corsican officials. "I want everyone in the [French] Republic to be able to claim their identity, their specificity. But if this specificity is to be the Republic's enemy, then it's an error and I cannot accept it."
Official status for Corsican rejected
But Macron ruled out giving the Corsican language an official status and another nationalist demand related to property purchases by non-residents.
"The President of the Republic could have shown himself to be a capable statesman, anchoring peace, building reconciliation and creating conditions for a calm dialogue taking into account this people's aspirations and interests," said Gilles Simeoni, the head of the regional government.
"He didn't do it. We consider that it is a missed opportunity," he added.
Push for greater autonomy
Corsica's nationalist leaders, who won a resounding majority in December, have been pushing for greater autonomy from Paris.
Their demands include an equal status for the French and Corsican languages, preferential access to the property market for locals and the release of Corsicans jailed for pro-independence violence.
Corsica, home to some 330,000 people, witnessed a violent militant campaign waged by separatists for 40 years before they laid down their weapons in 2014 to seek change through the ballot box.
Prior to becoming part of France in the 18th century, Corsica, birthplace of French emperor Napoleon Bonaparte, was ruled for centuries by the Republic of Genoa in what is now Italy. The historic connection to Italy is a reason why the local language is similar to Italian and the local culture has Italian elements.
Read more: In Corsica, a language breeds controversy
Nationalists boycott lunch with Macron
Macron already on Tuesday rejected demands for amnesty for the so-called jailed Corsican political prisoners, prompting Simeoni and another local elected leader, Jean-Guy Talamoni, to boycott a working lunch on Wednesday with the French president.
But the two leaders attended Macron's main policy speech later in the day. Neither man applauded at the end of the speech.
"It's a sad night for Corsica," said Talamoni, adding he was "dismayed by the level of responses" given by Macron.
ap/amp (Reuters, AFP, dpa)