Sarkozy pledges cash for Guadeloupe

French president offers $730m package to calm violent protests linked to economic crisis.

    Protesters on the island of Guadeloupe have complained over low wages and high prices [AFP]

    Sarkozy also said he would travel to Guadeloupe as soon as calm returned.

    Month-long strikes over pay and the cost of living have escalated into violence in Guadeloupe, one of four overseas "departments" or regions that are full parts of the European Union.

    Strikers are demanding a raise of $250 a month for low-wage workers who now make about $1,130 a month.

    But underlying much of the unrest in Guadeloupe and nearby 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 colonist descendants.

    Police reinforcements

    Concern is growing that the protests could spread to mainland France, where up to 2.5 million people went on strike last month against the government's economic policies.

    France has sent police reinforcements to the island, with Michele Alliot-Marie, the French interior minister, saying 280 officers would be sent to the island after holding an emergency meeting on Wednesday.

    The move comes after Jacques Bino, a 50-year-old union activist, was shot dead after driving his car near a roadblock manned by armed youths in Pointe-a-Pitre, the island's largest town, officials said.

    Unions 'cautious'

    Sebastian Walker, Al Jazeera's correspondent in Pointe-a-Pitre, said the protesters were complaining that they had been ignored by the French government for many years.

     There is rising discontent over the high levels of unemployment on the island [Reuters]
    Away from the luxury hotels and resorts on the island, there was a severe economic situation that has angered a lot of people, our correspondent said.

    Elie Domota, leader of LKP, the alliance of trade unions and associations that have organised the strikes, reacted cautiously to Sarkozy's statement and said the details would have to be discussed with mediators working to find a solution.

    "We are open to discussion," Domota told the Reuters news agency.

    "We'll have to examine the document that's given to us."

    With a population of about 450,000 and an area of 1,700sq km, Guadeloupe is heavily dependent on expensive imports for fuel and many food staples.

    It suffers from an unemployment rate of more than 20 per cent - almost three times the level in mainland France - and generally lower wages.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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