TWENTY retired generals have called for military rule if Emmanuel Macron fails to halt what they call the "disintegration" of France "at the hands of Islamists".
A chilling open letter claimed "civil war" would erupt without firm action, and suggested large swathes of the armed forces were ready to support their call to arms.
Mr Macron's government condemned the letter as an "outrage", and compared it to the failed coup against President de Gaulle 60 years ago.
But it was seized on by far right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen, who urged followers to join the "battle".
It comes amid growing concern among in France at ISIS-linked terror attacks and what some see as a breakdown of the nation's secular ideals.
The beheading of teacher Samuel Paty last year sparked mass protests in favour of free speech and a government crackdown on "separatists".
But now 100 retired officers including the 20 generals have said more extreme action is needed in a letter published in right wing news magazine Valeurs Actuelles.
The incendiary letter reads: "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 also attacked Mr Macron for brutal police action against yellow vest protesters.
France would "explode" into civil war if "nothing was done", leading to thousands of deaths, they claim.
The officers claimed France is "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 also claimed they had broad support in the military and were "ready to support" politicians who focused on the "safety of a nation".
The lead signatory was Christian Piquemal, 80, former commander of the Foreign Legion who lost his privileges as a retired officer after he was arrested for taking part in an anti-Islam demonstration in 2016.
It was written by former officer Jean-Pierre Fabre-Bernadac and signed by 1,000 others in lower ranks.
The National Rally party – formerly known as the National Front – hailed the soldiers last night.
It said the letter reflected the views of "patriots" like General Pierre de Villiers, who Mr Macron sacked as chief of the defence staff in 2017.
Party leader Ms Le Pen wrote on the site of the magazine where the letter was published: "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."
Mr Macron's supporters furiously hit back at the "politicised" ex-generals last night.
Armed Forces minister Florence Parly said a coalition between them and Ms Le Pen would be an outrage.
She said: "The irresponsible column is only signed by retired soldiers, who no longer have any function in our armies and only represent themselves.
"The politicisation of the Armed Forces suggested by Madame Le Pen would weaken our military capability and therefore France.
"The military are not there to campaign, but to defend France and protect the French."
Ms Le Pen would become head of the armed forces if she beat Mr Macron in next year's election.
Polls show she is his closest rival, and she is seeking to capitalise on the Covid crisis which she says will be Mr Macron's "Waterloo".
France has been threatened by military coups in the past, notably by far-right activists who wanted to keep Algeria as a colony.
There are some five million Muslims in France – the largest community of its kind in western Europe.
Liberals and conservatives have raised concerns about some Muslims who are said have set up their own communities separate from the rest of French society.
Tensions between multiculturalism and secular traditions of liberty and equality have led to controversial past measures such as a ban on wearing face veils in public.
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