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France threatens to punish soldiers over retired generals' 'Islamist horde' letter

A number of active soldiers are believed to have signed a letter published in a right-wing magazine that warned of 'civil war'
Critics have accused Macron and his cabinet of embracing far-right talking points.
French President Emmanuel Macron and his cabinet have been accused of embracing far-right talking points (AFP)

The French government has threatened to punish active soldiers who signed an open letter by more than a dozen retired generals warning President Emmanuel Macron the country is headed for "civil war".

A number of serving soldiers are believed to have signed the letter published last week in the right-wing Valeurs Actuelles magazine, which warned that "laxist" policies would result in chaos requiring "the intervention of our comrades on active duty in a perilous mission of protection of our civilisational values".

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"The hour is grave, France is in peril," the retired generals wrote.

The generals accused "Islamism and the suburban hordes" of turning parts of the country into no-go areas where French values were no longer upheld.

The government and left-wing parties strongly condemned the letter, which was published on the 60th anniversary of a failed coup d'etat by generals opposed to France granting independence to Algeria.

It was not immediately clear from the list how many of the signatories, apart from the former generals, had retired from the defence forces and how many were still active members.

Defence Minister Florence Parly warned on Monday that those still serving would be punished for flouting a law requiring them to remain politically neutral.

But she also appeared anxious to avoid giving too much importance to their outburst, assuring that the "immense majority" of French troops remained neutral and loyal.

'Battle of France'

The letter comes as candidates begin jockeying for position on key issues ahead of the 2022 presidential election, including immigration and security.

Critics have accused Macron and his cabinet of embracing far-right talking points, while pushing overly broad legislation that contributes to the conflation between Islam and Islamism, fostering further anti-Muslim sentiment in the country.

Macron has described Islam as a “religion in crisis” that is at odds with the secular values of the French Republic.

Meanwhile, far-right leader Marine Le Pen, whom polls show likely to face off against Macron next year in a rerun of the 2017 race, told the retired generals she shared their sentiments and invited them to back her campaign.

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"I invite you to join us in taking part in the coming battle, which is the battle of France," she wrote in a response to the letter published in Valeurs Actuelles.

Le Pen was widely criticised by her opponents on both the left and the right for her overtures to the soldiers behind what the left-wing daily Liberation described as a "call to sedition".

On Tuesday, she told France Info that while she shared the soldiers' diagnosis of a country afflicted by "lawless areas, crime, self-hatred and our leaders' rejection of patriotism", she agreed that "these problems can only be solved by politics".

The lead signatory of the letter in Valeurs Actuelles, Christian Piquemal, is a former Foreign Legion commander who was arrested for taking part in an anti-migrant demonstration in 2016.

The far-right Valeurs Actuelles weekly magazine has been moving from the fringes toward the mainstream ever since 2019 when Macron gave it an interview to discuss Islam and immigration, which was met with a major backlash at the time.

The magazine is also to go on trial on racism charges after publishing images of a Black woman MP as a slave in 2020.