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France vows Corsica crackdown following slaying of top official

Hooded anti-terrorist police swooped down on suspected Corsican separatists on Tuesday as France mulled steps to restore the rule of law on the holiday island following the killing of its top official there.

Police said renewed investigations started at dawn in and around the island's capital Ajaccio in the hunt for the killers of prefect Claude Erignac, who was gunned down on Friday in an unprecedented attack on a government representative.Interior Minister Jean-Pierre Chevenement said Socialist Prime Minister Lionel Jospin would announce in the National Assembly later in the day a series of measures "that will be rapidly implemented."

"Republican law will be applied in all its rigour," Chevenement said after meeting Jospin. He gave no details.

President Jacques Chirac, surrounded by the country's top ministers and politicians, has pledged to punish the killers and smash separatist violence which has wracked the Mediterranean island for two decades.

"We will not tolerate it... The assassins will be punished because they are the murderers of a man but also the enemies of the Republic," a sombre Chirac said to the applause of thousands of Corsicans gathered on Ajaccio's main square.

Police declined to comment on their investigation and speculation that it was also targeting organised crime after Chirac hit at a "drift towards the Mafia" among the island's tiny, rival separatist groups.

Unidentified separatists have claimed responsibility for the killing. French media said organised crime could be involved as Erignac, suspecting Mafia links, had blocked the sale of an ancient army fortress in the southern town of Bonifacio which was to be turned into a hotel and casino.