BASSE-TERRE — Protesters in French overseas territories in the Caribbean opposing measures to limit the spread of COVID-19 clashed again with security forces on Tuesday as the Paris government vowed to restore order. French authorities have extended the curfew imposed on the island of Guadeloupe until Sunday.
Hardline opponents of measures that include compulsory vaccination for health workers on Guadeloupe manned barricades of burning tires while on Martinique police were targeted by gunfire.
Anger over the COVID measures imposed by Paris has fanned longstanding grievances in the territories that are popular with moneyed tourists but where poverty levels are far higher than in mainland France.
As a result residents have long felt marginalized by the central government.
Vaccination rates in the territories trail those on the mainland with less than half the population jabbed against COVID on Guadeloupe.
The protests mark a test for the government of President Emmanuel Macron who has made much of the global footprint given to France by overseas territories that span the Caribbean to the Pacific via the Indian Ocean.
“The situation is still very difficult” in Guadeloupe after over a week of unrest, French Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin told France Inter radio. “What is clear is that restoring public order is the precondition for any talks.”
General strike under way in Martinique
Security forces and firefighters came under fire in Martinique where a general strike got underway on Monday, a week after a similar shutdown began in Guadeloupe, police said. There were no casualties.
Petrol bombs were meanwhile hurled at police in Basse-Terre, the main city in Guadeloupe where at least 90 people have been arrested in recent days, prosecutors said.
Barricades made of taxis or tires have now also been set up on main highways in Martinique and they remain in place in Guadeloupe where a meeting Monday chaired by Prime Minister Jean Castex failed to dampen anger.
“Of course we continue the mobilisation. We did not expect much from Castex and the Macron government, so we are not disappointed,” said Hilaire Luce, a demonstrator manning a barricade near Le Gosier on Guadeloupe, accusing the government of showing “contempt”.
Macron on Monday said that the crisis was “explosive” but vowed that the government would “not give in to lies, distorting of information and the exploitation by some people of this situation”.
The unrest comes at a sensitive moment in France’s governance of its overseas territories, ahead of a third and final referendum later this month offering people in the Pacific territory of New Caledonia a vote on independence.
Pro-independence forces have vowed to boycott the December 12 vote, setting up possible tensions in the aftermath of the ballot.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP)