French Guiana paralysed by general strike

Protests over crime rates and cost of living have propelled overseas territory into spotlight of French elections.

    Protests over high crime rates, the cost of living and lack of public services have gripped the French territory since late last month [Jody Amiet/AFP]
    Protests over high crime rates, the cost of living and lack of public services have gripped the French territory since late last month [Jody Amiet/AFP]

    Parts of French Guiana, including schools and shops, were shut down on Monday amid a general strike over high crime rates, the cost of living and lack of public services.

    The French government appealed for calm in its South American territory, which has been gripped by protests that have halted flights, disrupted a rocket launch and prompted travel warnings since late last month. 

    "The first priority is the fight against insecurity," French President Francois Hollande said.

    More than 30 labour unions launched the strike, demanding a "Marshall Plan" to improve public services and security.

    The general strike began on Monday and organisers have said it will continue until demands are met [Jody Amiet/AFP]

    The territory, home to about 250,000 people, relies on large injections of public funds and residents say it is often overlooked by the French government.

    "This has gone on long enough! All we have is plundered, it's time to recognise the people of Guiana," a woman at a barricade blocking access to the airport in the capital Cayenne told AFP news agency on Sunday.

    Antoine Karma, Guiana's representative to the French senate in Paris, said those in the territory are without basic social services and goods.

    "Today, 30 percent of the population still does not have access to drinking water or electricity," Karma told French media on Monday.

    "We are not treated the same way as the French on the French mainland," the socialist party politician said.

    French Prime Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said a delegation of ministers would be sent to Guiana by the end of the week if certain conditions were met. He did not elaborate on what those conditions were.

    The French government had previously sent a delegation to negotiate with protesters, but many refused to meet the officials, demanding that French ministers come instead.

    Campaign issue

    With less than four weeks until the first round of the French presidential election, the unrest in Guiana has been highlighted by several top candidates.

    Marine Le Pen, the far-right leader, condemned what she called a "cruel minimum service" delivered by French governments to the territory. She also blamed "mass immigration" for insecurity, according to local media.

    Independent centrist candidate Emmanuel Macron, who has just completed a tour of France's overseas territories, called for calm, saying the situation was "serious". He was later mocked for calling the overseas territory an island, which it is not.

    Conservative candidate Francois Fillon blamed the situation on "the failed policies of Francois Hollande".

    READ MORE: Marine Le Pen and post-colonial overseas departments

    The unions taking part in the strike have called for a complete shutdown of activity on Tuesday, according to the France-Guyane newspaper.

    Air France and Air Caraibes cancelled all flights into Guiana and schools and universities were closed.

    The protests led to the postponement of an Arianespace rocket launch at Europe's Guiana Space Centre in Kourou.

    About 250,000 people live in French Guiana, which relies on large injections of public funds [Jody Amiet/AFP] 

    Barricades were briefly lifted on Sunday to allow some residents to stock up on food and other supplies before the strike began.

    Similar unrest gripped French Guiana in 2008 over soaring fuel prices. Schools and the airport were shut down.

    The strike ended after 11 days, when the government agreed to cut fuel prices.

    SOURCE: News agencies


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