France gives in to Guadeloupe wage demands

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Paris is is going to make a new wage offer of almost EUR 200 per month to unions in an attempt to quell violence on the French Caribbean island.

POINTE-A-PITRE – France bowed to demands for wage increases in Guadeloupe on Thursday in the hope of ending a month-long strike that has plunged the French Caribbean island into rioting.

Shots were fired at French security forces during the third straight night of violence on the island and police confronted gangs of youths who looted stores and pillaged the town hall in Sainte-Rose on the north coast.

Hundreds of police reinforcements were sent to the island after a labour activist was shot dead late Tuesday near a barricade in Pointe-a-Pitre, the island's biggest town.

Following all-night negotiations led by government mediators, Prime Minister Francois Fillon said Paris would offer support payments to low-wage earners totalling almost EUR 200 per month, as demanded by unions.

"I hope this will meet the demands for measures to address the high cost of living in the West Indies," Fillon told RTL radio.

The offer was to be made to the Collective Against Exploitation (LKP), a coalition of unions and leftist groups that launched the strike on 20 January.

Police arrested 33 people overnight Wednesday to Thursday, some of whom were carrying weapons, said an official from the local administration.

Five stores, two restaurants and a car dealership were torched while police were ferried by helicopter to Sainte-Rose to end a looting rampage.

Local officials said five shot gun rounds were fired at security forces at Gosier, near Pointe-a-Pitre. No one was wounded but the police withdrew.

President Nicolas Sarkozy, who has been criticised for remaining silent during the month-long protest, was due to meet elected officials from Guadeloupe in Paris later Thursday.

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.

World Cup winning football star Liliam Thuram, a Guadeloupe native, alleged the government had waited too long to take action and accused white locals of being responsible for the rising cost of living.

"The Bekes are the ones who are responsible. They hold monopolies in some sectors and set prices," Thuram told Le Parisien daily.

Union representative Jacques Bino was shot dead on Tuesday night when he drove past 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.

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

Domota demanded a commission of inquiry and warned the coalition would step up its strike action following the government's move to send extra security forces.

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

Most shops, cafes, banks, schools and government offices have been shut in Guadeloupe and Martinique and the strike has hit the key tourism industry.

AFP / Expatica

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