Fri, Feb 20, 2009 - Page 6 News List

French authorities face third night of Guadeloupe unrest

AFP , POINTE-A-PITRE, GUADELOUPE

French security forces came under fire late on Wednesday as they confronted a third straight night of unrest on the strike-crippled Caribbean island of Guadeloupe.

Hundreds of extra French police and paramilitary gendarmes have been sent to the island since the tensions flared into looting and violence this week. The new unrest came one day after a union member was shot dead near a barricade.

The island prefecture said five shotgun rounds were fired at security forces at Gosier, near the capital Pointe-a-Pitre, in the latest incidents. No one was wounded but the security forces withdrew from the locality.

The prefecture said a store and a car in Pointe-a-Pitre were set ablaze and four people arrested nearby. Another store was looted at Sainte-Rose.

A union coalition called the general strike on Jan. 20 in protest at the high cost of living on the holiday island.

Union representative Jacques Bino was shot dead on Tuesday night when he drove up to a roadblock manned by armed youths in Pointe-a-Pitre. His car was hit three times by shotgun fire, prosecutors said.

Three police who accompanied emergency services trying to help the dying man were lightly wounded, officials said.

On Wednesday night more than 2,000 people, headed by union coalition leader Elie Domota, staged a silent march up to the place where Bino was killed.

Domota demanded a commission inquiry into the death and said unions still wanted a US$260 a month wage rise for low paid workers. He said the coalition would only step up its strike action following the French government’s move to send extra security forces.

After an emergency meeting in Paris on the island troubles, French Interior Minister Michele Alliot-Marie announced that 280 reinforcements would fly to the island where gangs of youths looted shops, smashed storefront windows and threw up burning roadblocks.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy said he would meet lawmakers from Guadeloupe yesterday to “address the anxiety, worries and also a certain form of despair from our compatriots.”

The conflict has exposed race and class divisions on the island, where the local white elite wields power over the black majority.

The economy is largely in the hands of the “Bekes,” the local name for whites who are mostly descendants of colonial landlords and sugar plantation slave owners of the 17th and 18th centuries.

A Socialist opposition leader, Malikh Boutih, said it was “shocking” to watch a police force “almost 100 percent white, confront a black population” and drew a parallel with the 2005 suburban riots in France.

“There are no concrete buildings, there are palm trees, but it’s the same dead-end, the same ‘no future’ for young people, with joblessness and a feeling of isolation,” Boutih said.

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

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