BASSE-TERRE — Protesters angry over virus and vaccine rules occupied Guadeloupe’s regional legislature because of stalled negotiations over their grievances about the management of the French Caribbean island.
Regional Council President Ary Chalus agreed to a meeting with some of the protesters’ representatives, the council tweeted after Thursday’s incursion.
Officials in Guadeloupe and Paris denounced the protest action as unacceptable and a threat to the democratically elected body.
Inside the council building, the protesters strung a banner reading “No to Obligatory Vaccination, No to the Health Pass,” according to images posted online by local officials.
A Christmas tree was shown knocked over.
Labor unions and the Collective Against Exploitation want the French government to abandon a measure ordering health workers to be suspended without pay unless they are vaccinated against COVID-19.
The protesters in Guadeloupe are also seeking better access to clean water, pension and wage increases, and mass employment.
Vaccinations are mandatory for all French health workers and a “health pass” is required to enter all restaurants and many venues in France.
The measures have met the stiffest opposition in Guadeloupe and Martinique, reflecting long-running frustrations over inequality with the French mainland.
Guadeloupe, an overseas department of France, uses the euro currency.
One-third of the island’s population lives below the poverty line, and the cost of living is higher than in the French mainland.
Water supplies have been a major problem in recent years because of obsolete pipes.
Anger over France’s handling of a toxic pesticide in Caribbean banana fields has fuelled mistrust in the government’s COVID-19 vaccine polices, along with misinformation shared on WhatsApp or Telegram groups.
Virus infections are again on the rise in Guadeloupe, and the prefecture on Thursday extended restrictions through January 6 requiring masks outdoors in public places as well as indoors, and a health pass for tourist activities like diving trips.
Healthworkers who did not want to be vaccinated will be suspended from December 31 but can be helped to transition into other work.
France’s Caribbean territories, remnants of the colonial era, are seen as luxury holiday destinations by people in mainland France. But residents there believe they have long suffered from neglect by Paris, which has resulted in living standards well below the French average.