Thu, Feb 19, 2009 - Page 7 News List

Protesters clash with police, close Guadeloupe airport

AP , BASSE-TERRE, GUADELOUPE

The French Caribbean island of Guadeloupe was on the verge of rebellion, a political leader said on Tuesday after stone-throwing protesters set cars and buildings ablaze, forced the international airport to close and clashed with police.

Nearly four weeks of work stoppages and demonstrations for lower prices and higher pay have caused thousands of tourists to flee or cancel holidays on the normally tranquil island, prompting many hotels to close and cruise ships to head elsewhere.

“It is a political crisis, an institutional crisis and we are on the brink of sedition,” Guadeloupe’s Regional Council President Victorin Lurel told France-Info radio.

From Paris, French Interior Minister Michele Alliot-Marie said the protests had caused “degradation, devastation and confrontations” on Guadeloupe and its sister island, Martinique, where most shops and offices have been closed by the protests.

She urged “calm, responsibility and restraint.”

Police said they arrested 18 people overnight as protesters burned cars, a library and a boat-rental store in Sainte-Anne and Point-a-Pitre.

Guadeloupe’s main airport was closed on Tuesday because workers could not pass through barricaded and debris-clogged roads and several flights were canceled, said Guadeloupe’s top appointed official, Nicolas Desforges.

About 450,000 people live on Guadeloupe, a verdant hilly island boasting white-sand beaches that is an integral part of France.

Behind much of the unrest in Guadeloupe and Martinique is resentment by Afro-Caribbeans, many of whom are descendants of slaves, that the vast majority of wealth and land are in the hands of offspring of colonists.

Paris has refused to budge on strikers’ demands for a US$250 monthly raise for low-paid workers who now make roughly US$1,130 a month. But business leaders in Martinique agreed on Tuesday to a 20 percent price cut on most supermarket products, despite initial refusal.

Stephane Hayot, a spokesman for the National Union of Wholesale Distributors, earlier said the move “would represent our death sentence” by forcing them to sell at prices that don’t cover their costs.

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