le pen
© Sylvain Lefevre/Getty ImagesThe far-right leader Marine Le Pen said she understood the sentiments of the first letter and called on the signatories to support her politics and her bid for the French presidency in 2022.
Serving members of the French military have fired a second salvo at Emmanuel Macron's government in an open letter accusing it of "cowardice, deceit, perversion", just weeks after a first letter said the country was heading for "civil war".

Like the first letter, it appears in the rightwing magazine Valeurs Actuelles. It was reportedly signed anonymously "by active military personnel" and is appended with a petition on the magazine's website for others to sign.

The letter's signatories refer to the seventh verse of La Marseillaise, the French national anthem, that refers to the "avenging" slain elders or following them to "their coffins".

It was published in support of the first letter, published on 21 April, the 60th anniversary of a failed coup d'état against General Charles de Gaulle over his support for Algerian independence.

Signed by a number of retired generals as well as at least 18 serving soldiers, including four officers, the initial letter warned of the "disintegration" of France evoking what it called the "perils" of Islamic extremist and "the hordes from the banlieue".

It also accused anti-racism groups of creating "hatred between communities" and cautioned that "lax" government policies could spark chaos requiring military action to "protect our civilisational values".

Afterwards, furious ministers accused the signatories, who were supported by the far-right Rassemblement National party leader, Marine Le Pen, of breaking military rules and threatened legal action against them. The armed forces minister, Florence Parly, said: "The armies are not there to campaign but to defend France", while the interior minister, Gérard Darmanin, accused Le Pen of having her father Jean-Marie Le Pen's "taste" for the sound of marching boots.

The second letter, published late on Sunday evening, batted off threats of punishment and launched an all-out attack on the government, accusing it of "trampling" on veterans' honour and "sullying" their reputation "when their only fault is to love their country and mourn its visible decline".

"To quibble about the form of our elders' tribune instead of recognising the evidence of their findings, you have to be cowardly. To invoke a misinterpreted duty of reserve in order to silence French citizens, one must be very deceitful. To encourage the army's senior officers to take a stand and expose themselves, before angrily sanctioning them as soon as they write anything other than battle reports, one must be quite perverse.

"Cowardice, deceit, perversion: this is not our vision of the hierarchy. On the contrary, the army is, par excellence, the place where we speak the truth because we commit our lives."

It concluded: "Once again, civil war is brewing in France and you know it perfectly well." By 10am Monday morning, Valeurs Actuelles claimed 76,461 people had signed the petition.

It brought a swift and damning response from the French government and politicians across the spectrum. Darmanin said it was a crude manoeuvre in the run-up to regional elections next month and denounced the lack of courage of its unnamed authors.

"These are anonymous people. Is that courage? To be anonymous?" Darmanin said on BFMTV. "What a strange and courageous society that gives such a voice to anonymous people. It's like being on social networks. I think I know that when you're in the military, you don't do this kind of thing on the sly."

Former president François Hollande told France Inter: "Where is the professional code ... how can we let people think that today the army would be driven by such feelings and by such a desire to challenge the very principles of the Republic?"

Jean-Luc Mélenchon of La France Insoumise (France Unbowed) said: "They are seditious and cowardly. I'm not afraid to say my name and what I will do if I'm elected and that's to purge the army of its dissident members."

Olivier Faure of the Socialist party said the letters were worrying and that the left should "reflect on all these threats".