Union leaders have said that the situation in Guadeloupe is spiralling out of control, and there are fears that the unrest could spread to mainland France.

'Deep malaise'

Bino, 50, is the first victim of the violence on the island, which has been crippled by strikes that began on January 20 over pay and high prices.

Francois Fillon, the French prime minister, condemned the "extremely serious violence", while Michele Alliot-Marie, France's interior minister, called a special meeting to discuss security on the island.

Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president, has not spoken publicly about Guadeloupe, but has agreed to see Guadeloupe parliamentarians on Thursday.

Elie Domota, leader of the protest movement, said Guadeloupe was "on fire".

"I think the malaise is deeper than we could imagine, because Guadeloupe is nearly exploding," she said.

Earlier in the week, protesters set buildings and cars on fire, looted shops, smashed storefront windows and clashed with police in Point-a-Pitre and at least two other towns.

Thousands of tourists have also fled the island and neighbouring Martinique.

"It is a political crisis, an institutional crisis and we are on the brink of sedition," Victorin Lurel, Guadeloupe's regional council president, told France-Info radio on Tuesday.

Demands

France, which administers the island, has urged "calm, responsibility and restraint".

Paris has refused to accede to strikers' demands for a raise of $250 a month for low-wage workers who now make about $1,130 a month.

On Tuesday, business leaders in Martinique agreed to a 20 per cent price cut on most supermarket products, despite initially rejecting the demand.

Underlying much of the unrest in Guadeloupe and Martinique is anger within the local Afro-Caribbean community - many of whom are descendants of slaves brought to the island by France - that the vast majority of wealth and land remain in the hands of colonists' descendants.