Fri, Feb 27, 2009 - Page 7 News List

Stores looted, cars burned in protests on French-controlled island of Martinique

AP , FORT-DE-FRANCE, MARTINIQUE

Thousands of people demonstrate in Paris, France, on Saturday during a rally in support of residents in French overseas Caribbean territories.

PHOTO: AFP

French police officers patrolled Martinique’s capital late on Wednesday after vandals burned cars and looted stores overnight as protests over high prices, low pay and alleged neglect by officials in Paris spread to a second Caribbean island.

Nearly 30 people were detained following the outburst in Fort-de-France, the French island’s chief city, police headquarters said.

Dozens of protesters gathered at city hall on Tuesday night to demand results from slow-moving negotiations there over demands for pay increases. Around midnight, some began hurling rocks and bottles at police guarding the building, and officers responded by firing tear gas.

Protesters burned at least five cars, several garbage bins and a small grocery store. Several stores were also looted, but no one was injured, a police statement said.

On Wednesday evening, a phalanx of French police officers were helping patrol the capital to enforce order.

Martinique has not seen the same degree of violence as that on the nearby French island of Guadeloupe, where weeks of strikes degenerated into rioting last week in which one labor activist was shot dead. Business on both islands has been largely frozen.

In Guadeloupe’s biggest city of Pointe-a-Pitre, strikers assembled on Wednesday night outside a seaside building where bargaining talks were taking place cheered apparent improvements in negotiations aimed at ending the more than month-long general strike.

Government representatives have offered to add an 80 euro (US$102) monthly raise to islanders making 900 euros a month in order to end the unrest in the French Caribbean island, said Nicolas Desforges, Guadeloupe’s top Paris-appointed official.

“This is a big contribution by the French government to get out of this crisis,” Desforges told reporters.

Added with the pledged contributions of business owners, strikers now have a 180 euro raise offer on the table — just 20 euros less than the 200 euro monthly increase they have been seeking.

But Guadeloupe protest leader Elie Domota said on Wednesday evening that it was too early to say whether the new offer would be acceptable.

“This is a proposal on the table we are going to review,” he told reporters.

Government negotiators in Point-a-Pitre had left the bargaining table on Monday night, saying they were not prepared to agree to a 200 euro monthly raise for those making 900 euros a month.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy last week announced a 580 million euro financial package to help development in the Caribbean regions of his country. But strikers complained that proposals were vague and did not directly address their demand for higher pay.

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