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Police free arrested protestors on French Caribbean island

Video by Yuka ROYER

Text by FRANCE 24 (with wires)

Latest update : 2009-02-17

Around 50 Guadeloupe protestors were briefly detained by police on Monday as striking workers stepped up their nearly month-long strike action by setting up roadblocks on the French Caribbean island. They were released later in the day.

Please read our reporters' notebook from Martinique. 

 

Fifty or so protesters were briefly arrested by police in the French Caribbean island of Guadeloupe before being released later on Monday. The demonstrators were detained at barricades set up on main roads by striking workers protesting against high prices and low wages on the island.  

The detained protesters were charged with interfering with traffic, bearing arms at a public gathering, and refusing to be fingerprinted or photographed.

For the first time since the beginning of the crisis in Guadeloupe and in neighbouring Martinique, French President Nicolas Sarkozy has been drawn into talks and will meet overseas MPs and presidents of local authorities to assess the situation on Thursday, according to the president’s office.

On Monday, French PM François Fillon announced new proposals to try to quell tensions in Guadeloupe, which has been crippled by a month-long general strike.

With the strike movement spreading from Guadeloupe to Martinique and the Indian Ocean island of La Réunion last week, the French government now faces a two-front battle ahead of a social summit hosted by French President Nicolas Sarkozy on February 18, where the issue of overseas social tensions could be added to the agenda.

In Martinique, the unions behind the strike say 15,000 demonstrators joined the march in the island’s main town Fort-de-France on Monday, against 8,000 according to the police. “On the 12th day of the strike, the [unions] are calling people to come out again and protest to keep the pressure on,” says Eve Irvine, FRANCE 24 special correspondent in Fort-de-France, Martinique.

 


Meanwhile, all parties agreed to return to the negotiating table on Monday. At stake is the commitment of island supermarkets to drop the price of 100 basic necessity goods by 20 percent.

“In Martinique, the dialogue continues on the basis of the 39 propositions I made last week (…) I am confident that an agreement can be found quickly,” Overseas Minister Yves Jégo confirmed to French daily Le Parisien - Aujourd’hui en France.

“It’s obviously more complicated in Guadeloupe,” Jégo added. “Everything has been solved, except the question of salaries.”

‘The movement is intensifying’

In Guadeloupe, the LKP (Alliance against Profiteering) has been stepping up the strike which began on January 20 with demands for an increase in the minimum wage and lower food and fuel prices. At least 9,000 people participated last Saturday in a march to the slogan of “Guadeloupe is ours, not theirs.”

“The movement isn’t short of breath, on the contrary, it is intensifying,” LKP leader Elie Domota said on Saturday. Domota urged supermarkets and gas stations to shut down Monday. There are also calls to set up road blocks across the island.

The ball is now in the court of island employers, says Jégo. But hope for a quick exit is fading quickly. The government has rejected the unions’ demand that the lowest salaries be increased by 200 euros a year while the unions maintain they won’t end the strike without that concession.

Medef-Guadeloupe, the island employers’ association, has warned that up to 12,000 jobs – 15% of the island’s employment - could be lost as a result of the strike.

The tourism situation is “catastrophic,” the head of the hotel federation, Nicolas Vion, told AFP. The hotel occupancy rate has dropped down to 20 to 30 percent as opposed to a seasonal average of 90 to 100 percent.

Date created : 2009-02-16

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