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Sarkozy meets envoys for talks on unrest

Text by FRANCE 24 (with wires)

Latest update : 2009-02-19

The French government has offered a wage increase to Guadeloupe's unions in a bid to quell weeks of unrest. Shots were fired at French security forces overnight ahead of talks between President Nicolas Sarkozy and officials from the island in Paris.

After another night of violence that threatened to spill out of control, the French government is offering a new wage plan for strikers in a bid to end the month-long unrest in Guadeloupe.


Shots were fired at French security forces overnight on the third straight night of violence on the island. Police confronted gangs of young people who looted stores and pillaged the town hall of Sainte-Rose.


Following all-night negotiations, French Prime Minister François Fillon said Paris would offer a wage hike to low-income earners of almost 200 euros a month, in accordance with union demands.


Guadeloupe’s Collective Against Exploitation (LKP), a coalition of unions and leftist groups, launched a general strike against the soaring cost of living in Guadeloupe on Jan. 20. The protesting unions demanded a monthly wage rise of 200 euros for low-paid workers.


"I hope this will meet the demands for measures to address the high cost of living in the West Indies," Fillon told RTL radio.

LKP leader Elie Domota gave a guarded response to Fillon's offer. "We can't be satisfied with mere announcements," he said in an interview with RTL radio. "They'll have to show us a detailed proposition."


The strikes, which have crippled the overseas French department, turned deadly this week when a union activist was killed in Guadeloupe’s main city of Pointe-a-Pitre.


Amid growing criticism over the government’s failure to address grievances in the French Caribbean isles, the new proposal marked a shift in the government’s position. While the French government has offered numerous concessions to the protesters, it had so far balked at the demand for a pay hike, fearing it would be forced to offer the same deal to unions across mainland France.


Speaking to FRANCE 24 Thursday, Yves Jégo, secretary of state for overseas territories, said the new wage support payments announced by the government “would allow at least 25,000 workers to earn approximately 200 euros more.”


The proposal came just hours before French President Nicolas Sarkozy held talks with the island’s elected representatives in Paris on Thursday. Guadeloupe and Martinique, French departments located in the eastern Caribbean Sea, are administered in part by Paris and partly by local authorities.


Looting and pillage


French security forces, deployed on the island to help quell the violence, came under attack late on Wednesday at Gosier, near Pointe-a-Pitre.


Five shotgun rounds were fired at security forces but no one was injured, according to local police authorities. A shop and a car in Pointe-a-Pitre were also reportedly set ablaze and four people arrested nearby.


At least 33 people were arrested overnight, some of whom were carrying weapons, according to the local administration.


Violence escalated after Jacques Bino, a union activist, was shot dead in his car overnight on Tuesday after leaving a LKP meeting in Pointe-a-Pitre.


More than 2,000 people -- headed by union coalition leader Domota -- participated in a silent street march on Wednesday in tribute to Bino, the first fatality of the violence. They marched from the union buildings to the place where he was killed.


“The mood is sombre,” said FRANCE 24’s Eve Irvine, reporting from Pointe-a-Pitre late on Wednesday. “Rather than wanting to end the strike because of his death, union members are now even more motivated to carry on the strike,” she added.


The social unrest has spread to the neighbouring island of Martinique, where unions launched a strike on Feb. 5, demanding higher wages and a lower cost for basic goods. Most shops, cafes, banks, schools and government offices have been shut on the two islands for the past few weeks, dealing a blow to the popular holiday destinations’ vital tourism industry.


The recent tensions in Guadeloupe and Martinique have also exposed race and class divisions on the island, where the local white elite wields power over the black majority.


Date created : 2009-02-19