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Protestors 'fire' on police, mayor says

Armed youths fired rifles at police overnight as economic protests on the French Caribbean island of Guadeloupe crept towards fever pitch Wednesday, the mayor of Baie-Mahault, Ary Chalus, said.


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AFP - Armed youths fired rifles towards police overnight as economic protests on the French Caribbean island of Guadeloupe crept towards fever pitch Wednesday.

The mayor of Baie-Mahault, Ary Chalus, said around a hundred youths rampaged through the commercial district of Destrelland late Tuesday, adding that some fired rounds from their weapons in the direction of police.

Three officers were "lightly" hurt by the gunfire, Chalus said, with police also telling local radio that a Renault car dealership was destroyed, firefighters saying the site was completely in flames when they arrived.

An AFP correspondent reported hearing more and more blasts in Pointe-a-Pitre just before 0400 GMT Wednesday.

The mayor also reported looting, Chalus adding that two arrests had been made late Tuesday local time, with outbreaks of fighting continuing deep into the evening on the island despite three squadrons, around 200 officers, being deployed.

A Caribbean television journalist again reported witnessing violent demonstrators carrying and unloading weapons while manning road barricades, many of which had been set ablaze, almost one month into a general strike launched on January 20.

A shopping centre once more became the target of protesters' ire with a perfume store ransacked, while an automobile tyre centre was left in ruins overnight Tuesday, according to reporters on the scene.

Police confirmed the looting, while strike leaders again called for "calm" via local radio after officers were sucked into fighting around the barricades.

"Don't put your life in danger -- don't endanger the lives of others," Collective Against Exploitation (LKP) leader Elie Domota told RCI radio.

Protesters used burning cars, tree trunks and even a fridge to block roads across Guadeloupe on Tuesday as the island's main airport was shut for security reasons after a night of looting and bonfires, although it was later reopened.

The French overseas department has been sliding deeper into turmoil since the LKP, a coalition of unions and leftist groups, launched their action.

The LKP said it planned to step up protests this week after the government refused to bow to its central demand for a monthly 200-euro (260-dollar) increase for low-wage earners.

In Paris, President Nicolas Sarkozy said he would meet with elected officials from Guadeloupe and other overseas departments on Thursday to take stock of the situation.

Police detained dozens of protesters in Guadeloupe on Monday after they began putting up barricades. Prime Minister Francois Fillon said roadblocks were not "part of the legal means of expression."

Unions launched a strike on the neighbouring French island of Martinique on February 5 also to press for higher salaries and measures to bring down the prices of basic goods.

Island residents rely almost exclusively on imports sold in French-owned supermarkets at significantly higher prices than in France.

Most shops, cafes, banks, schools and government offices have been shut in Guadeloupe and Martinique and the strike has also hit the key tourism industry.

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