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Sarkozy proposes €580m to islands, unions call plan vague

Video by Eve IRVINE , Willy BRACCIANO

Text by FRANCE 24 (with wires)

Latest update : 2009-02-21

President Nicolas Sarkozy proposed up to €580 million to aid France’s overseas departments, but while Elie Domota (pictured), leader of striking unions in Guadeloupe, agreed to resume negotiations he did not move to call off the strike.

Striking leaders in Guadeloupe resumed negotiations Friday, a day after French President Nicolas Sarkozy offered 580 million euros in subsidies to four French overseas departments, including the restive islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique, in a bid to quell social unrest.

“Some progress was made right after President Sarkozy’s declaration,” FRANCE 24’s special correspondent Cyril Vanier reported from Guadeloupe’s capital Basse-Terre. “The Unions met with a French government representative for the first time in ten days since the negotiations first broke down.”

However, the Collective Against Exploitation (LKP), a coalition of unions and leftist groups, refused to call off their month-long strike, saying Sarkozy’s plan failed to offer a concrete solution.

"At the moment, the proposals seem particularly vague to us," Elie Domota, leader of Guadeloupe's striking unions, told reporters after his meeting with the island's prefect, Nicolas Desforges, and two French government envoys.

“The Unions are unhappy with the offers put forward by the French government,” said Vanier. “The union categorically said Sarkozy’s offer does not meet their demands and they’ve been offered crumbs,” he added.

Sarkozy set to visit Guadeloupe

Sarkozy proposed a “vast plan of modernisation" for the territories and promised to visit Guadeloupe to open a round of consultations following talks with envoys from the island on Thursday in Paris.

Guadeloupe’s LKP launched a strike on January 20 against the soaring cost of living and demanded a monthly wage rise of 200 euros for low-paid workers.

Sarkozy laid out his offer hours after French Prime Minister François Fillon unveiled the government’s plan to hike wages for low-income earners by almost 200 euros a month, in accordance with union demands.

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.

Reporting from Guadeloupe, FRANCE 24’s Virginie Herz said protesters seemed relieved to hear that negotiations had resumed. “We spoke to some residents who said they want time to study Sarkozy’s proposal,” said Herz. But, she added, there was a prevailing sense that the French government could have averted a lot of damage by acting sooner.

The unrest also spread to neighbouring Martinique, where a strike was launched on February 5. Widespread protests on the two French Caribbean islands have led to extreme fuel and food shortages, further inflaming anger among residents.

Strikes turn deadly

The strikes turned deadly this week when Jacques Bino, a union activist, was killed in Guadeloupe’s main city of Pointe-a-Pitre on Tuesday.

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.

Police arrested at least 39 people Thursday, after gangs of youths looted and ransacked stores on the island’s northern coast.

Hundreds of French police and paramilitary gendarmes have been deployed in Guadeloupe to quell the violence.

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.

The four French overseas departments are Guadeloupe, Martinique, La Reunion and French Guiana.

Date created : 2009-02-21