Twenty retired generals and scores of ex-officers have sparked a political furore in France after calling on President Emmanuel Macron to stop the country from descending into chaos and “civil war” at the hands of Islamists.
Led by Jean-Pierre Fabre-Bernadac, a retired Gendarmerie general, and signed by 80 other retired officers, the open letter to Mr Macron was published in Valeurs Actuelles, a right-wing news magazine, last week.
Strongly supported by Marine Le Pen, leader of the far-right National Rally and presidential candidate, the text was this week dismissed by Mr Macron’s government as a diatribe from a bunch of military pensioners who “only represent themselves”.
It was, it said, sadly reminiscent of the Algiers putsch - an attempt to oust Charles de Gaulle 60 years ago by retired generals who opposed moves towards granting Algeria, then a French colony, independence after a bloody civil war.
However, the appeal has gained traction just days after a woman police employee had her throat slashed by an Islamist who had entered France illegally from Tunisia before eventually being granted residency.
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It also comes a year before presidential elections in which key themes are expected to be security and immigration - issues which the Right and far-Right see as Mr Macron’s Achilles heel, despite him introducing a string of tough laws including one against Islamist “separation”.
“France is in danger. Several mortal perils are threatening her,” the generals wrote. “Even in retirement, we remain soldiers of France and cannot in the current circumstances remain indifferent to the fate of our beautiful country.”
Under the influence of Left-wing dogma France was “disintegrating with the Islamists of the hordes of the banlieue [suburbs] who are detaching swathes of the nation and turning them into territory subject to dogmas contrary to our constitution,” they warned.
Failure to act now could see “an explosion and then intervention by our comrades on active service in the dangerous mission of protecting our civilised values and the safety of our compatriots”.
“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.”
Without citing any political figures, the generals said that they were “ready to support politicians who take into account the safety of the nation”.
Ms Le Pen promptly said she wholeheartedly agreed with their analysis and called on them to support her.
“I invite you to join our action and take part in the battle which is opening and which is above all the battle of France,” she wrote on the Valeurs Actuelles site. “As a citizen and as a woman politician, I subscribe to your analysis and share your suffering.”
After days of silence, Florence Parly, the defence minister, dismissed the text on Sunday as the “irresponsible” work of “retired soldiers who no longer have any role in our armed forces and only represent themselves”.
“Ms Le Pen's comments reflect a serious ignorance of the institution of the army, which is worrying for someone who wants to become commander-in-chief,” she added.
Ms Agnès Pannier-Runacher, the industry ministry, also lashed out at Ms Le Pen. “Sixty years to the day after the putsch by the generals against General de Gaulle ... the mask is falling and the varnish is cracking. 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, founded the far-Right party she now leads with support from those who backed the army’s efforts to stop de Gaulle granting independence to Algeria.
However, Ms Le Pen's call for the retired generals to back her got a frosty reception.
“It is clumsy, to say the least, to launch an electoral touting operation,” responded Gen Fabre-Bernadac, who accused Ms Le Pen of “total ignorance of the military world”.
Mr Macron has come under a barrage of criticism for his perceived “lax” approach to immigration and security in recent days, buoyed by polls suggesting 65 per cent of the French do not think his government has a handle on crime.
After last Friday’s Islamist murder, several opposition figures, including Right-wing head of the Paris region Valérie Pécresse, this week accused him of failing to concede that there is a link between “immigration and terrorism”.
The Macron camp branded such criticism so soon after the murder as the work of "vultures".
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