French authorities have announced they are taking control of some fuel stations on the Caribbean island territory of Martinique because of concerns over fuel supplies following days of protests against measures to limit the spread of COVID-19.
Residents angry over the management of the pandemic – and specifically over vaccination requirements for health workers – have in recent days set up burning barricades and in some cases exchanged gunfire with police.
The vaccine mandate also applies to health workers in mainland France, but it has touched a nerve among the majority Black population in Martinique and the neighbouring island of Guadaloupe.
Some have called the mandate a throwback to the slavery era, insisting they should be allowed to make their own choices about health treatment.
The Martinique prefect said in a statement that it was taking over seven fuel stations to ensure supply for emergency workers such as firefighters and ambulances “due to supply risks at gas stations”.
Protesters in recent days have set up barricades that, in some cases, included burning cars.
Local authorities cleared away some of the debris, a witness told the Reuters news agency, after a union leader called for the barricades to be lifted due to violence.
Serge Letchimy and Lucien Saliber of the Martinique Territorial Collective (CTM), an administrative body that runs the island, called for calm and condemned the violence that had taken place near barricades. “We must call on everyone to be calm,” the CTM wrote on its Twitter account.
France’s BFM TV, citing police, earlier said gunshots had been fired for a second night.
Alexane Ozier-Lafontaine, 21, a Martinique teacher who has joined the protests, said people were angry about issues including the vaccine mandate and the cancellation of a local holiday.
She also said tourists faced fewer restrictions on their movements than locals.
“People are very angry about that,” said Ozier-Lafontaine in a telephone interview on Wednesday, adding she heard gunshots on Tuesday night.
Protesters are also angry over the use of a chemical pesticide called chlordecone at banana plantations in Guadeloupe and Martinique. The pesticide has been linked to unusually high rates of prostate cancer on both islands.
Agriculture workers were for decades exposed to chlordecone, a situation French President Emmanuel Macron has called an “environmental scandal”, according to French media.