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The French government has blasted a new open letter by scores of serving French military personnel to Emmanuel Macron warning of impending civil war at the hands of Islamists as a “crude manoeuvre” by the far-Right.
Interior minister Gérald Darmanin dismissed the letter, which includes dire warnings of societal collapse and army intervention, as a blatant bid to boost the far-Right ahead of regional and presidential elections and called on the anonymous signatories to have the “bravery” to identify themselves.
In all, 145,000 people, a mixture of military personnel and civilians, had endorsed the second letter by Monday afternoon and 1.7 million people had read it. There are about 426,000 serving members of the French armed forces, including the Gendarmerie.
An initial letter released two weeks ago by a group of semi-retired generals and mostly retired officers made similar claims that France was heading for “disintegration” and “civil war” at the hands of Islamists and Leftists.
It was supported by Marine Le Pen, leader of the far-right National Rally and candidate in presidential elections in 12 months time.
Her party commands strong support from the armed forces, with one poll suggesting over 40 per cent of the military and 54 per cent of police officers voted for Ms Le Pen in the first round of the 2017 presidential election. She garnered 21 per cent from the wider electorate in round one.
The themes of immigration and security are dominating the French presidential pre-campaign after the murders in the past two weeks of a police officer by a drug dealer and a police employee by an Islamist who turned out to have arrived in France illegally from Tunisia a decade ago.
However, on Sunday, Valeurs Actuelles, a Right-wing magazine that published the initial appeal, released a second letter warning that France’s “survival is at stake” if more radical action is not taken to stop the rot.
The letter was penned by an unknown quantity of serving armed services personnel some of whom had seen active duty in France’s operations in Mali and Afghanistan and had taken part in Operation Sentinel, the anti-terrorist patrols in French streets.
“Some of us lost their comrades. They gave their lives to destroy the Islamism to which you make concessions on our soil,” they wrote.
As such, it went on, they are well placed to comment on the domestic situation. “It’s a professional assessment we are delivering. Because this downward spiral, we have seen it with our own eyes in many countries in crisis. It precedes collapse. It heralds chaos and violence,” they claimed.
“We have seen with our eyes the abandoned suburbs, the little deals with criminals. We witness the violence in our towns and villages…We see hatred of France and its history becoming the norm,” they wrote.
“Yes, if civil war breaks out, the army will keep order on its own soil because it will be asked to do so,” they reiterated.
“Civil war is brewing in France and you know it perfectly. The survival of our country is at stake.”
The text also compared the Macron administration to wartime collaborators with the Nazi occupiers and likened the officers who signed the first appeal to resistance fighters.
Those who sought to punish the "elders" who wrote the first letter were guilty of “cowardice, deceit, perversion”, it claimed.
On Monday, Ms Le Pen reacted by saying civil war "is brewing" during a visit to western France. "In any case, it is a risk. Of course, there is always a risk of civil war," she said, adding that she welcomed the second letter as she had the first.
"It is clearly not a call to insurrection," she said. "Otherwise I would not be supporting it."
Speaking to BFM TV on Monday, Mr Darmanin, the interior minister, blasted the serving soldiers who allegedly signed the letter as cowards.
“We’re talking about unnamed people. Is that bravery to be anonymous?,” he said.
“When you want to go into politics, you run for election,” he said, adding that the tribune was a “crude manoeuvre” to boost the far-Right little more than a month before regional elections in France and a year before a presidential ballot in which Mr Macron and Ms Le Pen are polling to face off in the second round.
The main instigators of the initial letter are alleged to have ties to far-Right, anti-immigration movements in France, as well as conspiracy theorists close to the Yellow Vest movement.
The first signatory, Jean-Pierre Fabre-Bernadac, ran security in the 1990s for the far-Right National Front - now called the National Rally. Another, Christian Piquemal, was stripped of his title as a four-star general after attending an anti-migrant rally in Calais.
Mr Darmanin said: “It appears we’re talking here about radicals who want to help the National Front (sic) win the elections.
“When you are brave, you give your name. I think I know what I’m talking about because I have several military people in my family. When you are a member of the armed forces, you don’t do this sort of thing in hiding.”
Bruno Le Maire, the finance minister, also blasted the latest appeal as the work of a few radicals who were harming the reputation of the bulk of the armed forces.
“I am deeply wounded because this damages part of our forces,” he said. “The people who risk their life on the ground keep quiet,” he said. “They have weapons in their hands and they fight the Islamists.”
French defence minister Florence Parly also responded on Monday, saying the letter "smacks of a vulgar political machination".
"You will have noted that this tribune uses the rhetoric, the tone and references of the far-Right. To what end? Surely to divide, split at a time when France needs to come together," she told reporters.
"What damages our Republic is when people attack our armed forces. Their neutrality is what allows the French to trust in their armed forces. Our soldiers are proud of that, the French are proud of it and I would like to reassert my faith in them."
The government was slow to react to the initial letter but polls suggest it has struck a chord.
One by Harris Interactive for LCI found that 58 per cent of those asked agreed with the letter’s conclusions and 73 per cent agreed with their view that “France is disintegrating”.