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French Guiana protesters demand 'immediate' €2.5 billion aid package

Jody Amiet, AFP | Protesters walk with a banner reading "Hello France, Guiana here" in Cayenne, capital of France's South American territory, on March 28, 2017.

Labour leaders behind massive strikes in French Guiana have rejected a billion-euro aid package offered by the French government, demanding instead €2.5 billion right away.

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The South American territory, which is administered as a region of France, has been in the grip of industrial unrest for the past 10 days, with representatives of the Guianese calling for the area to be given "special status".

"We demand 2.5 billion euros ($2.7 billion) immediately," said Olivier Goudet, a spokesman for the grouping of unions, who had earlier met with France's overseas territories minister, Ericka Bareigts.

With less than three weeks to go before French presidential elections, Bareigts had urged the strikers to quickly come to an agreement.

Bareigts "acts like she doesn't know that we are 50 years behind, that we are suffering, that we see poverty in our country", said Goudet, promising further strikes Monday.

Understanding French Guiana's social unrest

France made its €1.085 billion offer on Saturday, mostly for "emergency measures" but with some of the cash paid over 10 years.

The proposals include investments in health, education and infrastructure, and the deployment of extra police and construction of a prison.

French Guiana immediately described the proposals as "unsatisfactory", and the collective behind the strikes called for a "special status" for the territory in talks with Bareigts.

"With another system, we could decide for ourselves what is good for us" rather than "asking permission for everything" from France, collective member Davy Rimane told AFP.

In a referendum in January 2010, French Guiana voted firmly against autonomy.

"But this crisis is the expression of the failure of this referendum," said Gauthier Horth, another member of the collective.

>> Read more: Rockets in the jungle: Understanding French Guiana’s social unrest

Wedged between Brazil and the Atlantic Ocean, the remote French "département" [region] of Guiana, located some 7,000 kilometres from Paris, is a holdover from France’s colonial past.

It is the second-largest French administrative area after Nouvelle Aquitaine but it is also one of the poorest: Its per capita income of €15,000 is less than half the average on mainland France.

The dearth of jobs and educational prospects has pushed unemployment to record highs, particularly among young people.

And with the territory’s already high crime levels rising further, its disgruntled population is now up in arms.

Some 10,000 people marched in the territory’s main cities of Cayenne and Saint-Laurent-du-Maroni last Tuesday – the largest protests ever witnessed in this enclave of 250,000 inhabitants.

The protest movement has closed down the strategic Guiana Space Centre in Kourou, postponing the planned launch of a rocket carrying communications satellites for Brazil and South Korea.

French Guiana's key fishing industry joins general strike

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

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