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  HOME | Caribbean

Strikers Clash with Cops in Martinique, Guadaloupe

FORT-DE-FRANCE -- Strikes that have nearly paralyzed daily life in the French Caribbean territories of Martinique and Guadeloupe erupted into clashes as police battled protestors angry about high prices, unemployment and the extreme concentration of wealth that prevails on the tourism-dependent islands.

Police detained about 50 people after coming under a barrage of stones as they tried to take down barricades blocking main roads in Guadeloupe's capital, Point-a-Pitre.

Protesters were sprayed with tear gas and several, including a union leader, were injured.

The strikes began nearly a month ago, but it was the erection of barricades that prompted a tough response from police, while also highlighting the government's inability to resolve the crisis. France's prime minister said the barricades were illegal and protesters should limit themselves to legal marches and strikes.

In nearby Martinique, a week-long strike over the rising cost of living raised racial tensions Monday, as around 2,000 protesters chanted slogans targeted at the island's white elite.

"Martinique is ours, not theirs!" the mainly black crowd chanted during a march through Fort-de-France.

Though representing only around 1 percent of the population, whites control most of Martinique's industries.

The working-class blacks who make up the majority of residents are angry over the state of the local economy and over the way the central government in Paris has responded to the economic woes.

French President Nicholas Sarkozy has called on government ministers to formulate measures to stimulate and modernize the economy of the two islands.

The minister for the Overseas Territories, Yves Jego, arrived in the region last weekend for a second attempt to end the disturbances.

He said Paris will assist 25,000 needy families under a new poverty reduction program, finance the construction of 1,000 housing units and provide a $17 million injection to the agriculture sector.

Jego also said fuel prices would drop immediately.

One of the organizers of the protest, Michel Monrose, said that while he would review the proposals, "the general strike continues." "The protest must not end," he said.

France has dispatched 130 extra police to Martinique and Guadeloupe, where schools, stores, gas stations and government offices have been forced shut as protesters demand lower prices and higher pay.

Protesters in Martinique last week rejected as inadequate an offer by the island's retailers to cut prices by 20 percent on 100 basic products.

Motorists formed long lines at service stations here Monday, as strike leaders agreed to let stations reopen for the first time in days.

Local officials have been negotiating with the union leading the strike action, pleading with them to "loosen the vise" on the island's population. EFE

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