US warns against travel to French Guiana amid social unrest
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Large protests have spread throughout French Guiana, blocking roads to neighbouring Brazil and Suriname, prompting the US government to issue a travel warning Friday for the French territory in South America.
Hundreds of people have taken part in protests over the high crime rate, cost of living and the poor quality of social services such as health care. The ‘Collective of 500 Brothers’, the group largely driving the protests, are demanding that the French government send a minister to negotiate with them, according to spokesman Ken Saint-Luce.
"We, citizens of French Guiana, are tired of living our lives like this. Life over here has become very difficult," Saint-Luce said in an interview on Surinamese radio station Apintie. "We had been talking to the local government for weeks, but that did not lead to anything concrete."
Late on Friday, the government in Paris responded by sending a delegation of “high-ranking officials” from several ministries to the far-flung territory, located more than 7,000 kilometres from mainland France.
The protest leaders had earlier rejected an invitation to travel to Paris for talks.
The demonstrations have paralysed French Guiana in recent days as protesters blocked roads and many businesses and schools have closed.
A visit by Segolene Royal, the French minister of ecology, to the territory on March 17 was cut short after masked demonstrators from the collective stormed into a regional conference on biodiversity she was attending in the French Guiana's capital city of Cayenne. Demonstrators surrounded the consulates of Suriname, Haiti and Guyana in Cayenne the same day, demanding that the government return all prisoners from these nations to their native countries immediately.
The planned launch on Tuesday of an Ariane 5 rocket from the space center in Kourou, carrying a South Korean satellite and a Brazilian satellite, had to be postponed indefinitely.
Furthermore, an Air France flight to Cayenne was diverted back to Paris on Thursday, four hours into its journey. Passengers on board were told the flight was returning because of the social unrest in French Guiana. Flights from regional airlines to Cayenne on Friday were canceled.
The US State Department issued a travel warning because of the potential for the protests to turn violent. It said the US Embassy in Paramaribo, Suriname, is able to provide only very limited consular services in French Guiana and said citizens should avoid travel to French Guiana.
(FRANCE 24 with AP)