France lurching to civil war as Macron threatens to punish soldiers calling for coup

France: Correspondent discusses stabbing near Paris

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The French government condemned the open letter, published in the right-wing Valeurs Actuelles magazine, as it gained traction after a Tunisian Islamist stabbed a 49-year-old woman to death on the outskirts of Paris. A number of serving soldiers are understood to have packed the warning, which claimed “laxist” policies would result in chaos requiring the “intervention of our comrades on active duty in a perilous mission of protection of our civilisation values”. The letter states: “France is in danger. Several mortal perils threaten her. Even in retirement, we remain soldiers of France and cannot in the present circumstances remain indifferent to the fate of our beautiful country.”

The generals claimed that France was “disintegrating with the Islamists of the hordes of the banlieue [suburbs] who are detaching large parts of the nation and turning them into territory subject to dogmas contrary to our constitution”.

They accused President Macron’s government of fanning the flames of hatred by allowing brutal police crackdown against the so-called yellow-vest movement.

The Generals suggested that if nothing is done to respond to their concerns, there would be a sudden “explosion” and need for a military coup to topple the government.

They said: “There is no time to waffle, or tomorrow civil war will put an end to this growing chaos and the dead, for whom you will bear responsibility, will be counted in the thousands.”

Around 1,000 servicemen, including some 20 retired generals, put their names to the letter.

Defence minister Florence Parly warned that serving soldiers that backed the letter would be punished for flouting a law requiring them to remain politically neutral.

She fumed: “Two immutable principles guide the action of members of the military with regard to politics: neutrality and loyalty.”

She added: “For who have violated the duty of reserve, sanctions are planned, and if there are active soldiers among the signatories, I asked the chief of staff of the armed forces to apply the rules… that is to say, sanctions.”

Ms Parly used the example of a former general in the French Foreign Legion who was booted out of the military for taking part in a protest against migrants in Calais.

Christian Piquemal, 80, whose signature first appeared on the letter, lost his privileges as a retired officer after he was arrested at the demonstration in 2016.

The letter was initiated by Jean-Pierre Fabre-Bernadac, a retired gendarmerie officer who was an active member of the yellow-vest movement.

It has also been backed by far-right leader Marine Le Pen, of the National Rally, who is mounting a serious challenge against Mr Macron ahead of next year’s presidential elections.

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Responding to the letter, she said: “I invite you to join our action and take part in the battle that is opening and is above all the battle of France.

“As a citizen and as a woman politician, I share your suffering.”

Ms Le Pen argued that the generals’ warning was in line with the views of “patriots” like General Pierre de Villiers, a former chief of the defence staff, who was sacked by President Macron in 2017.

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Defence minister Ms Parly hit out at the National Rally leader, saying: “The words of Ms Le Pen reflect a serious ignorance of the institution of the army, which is worrying for someone who wants to be commander-in-chief.”

Industry minister Agnes Pannier-Runacher joined the attack: “Sixty years to the day after the putsch by the generals against General de Gaulle the mask is falling. Marine Le Pen is far right and it’s exactly the same story as 60 years ago.”

Ms Le Pen’s father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, founder of the far-right party, backed the army’s attempts to stop General de Gaulle granting independence to Algeria.

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