Unrest continues in Martinique, Guadeloupe as some talks begin

Protests that began over COVID restrictions have grown into call to address longstanding issues in French territories.

Protests began in the French Caribbean islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique over coronavirus-related restrictions, including mandatory vaccines for health workers [Christophe Archambault/AFP]

Protesters looted shops and set up burning barricades overnight in Martinique, French news outlet France Info reported as unrest about coronavirus restrictions intensified in the French island territory in the Caribbean.

France Info published a video on Thursday of protesters targeting a shopping centre and running away with goods, as well as videos of demonstrators setting up burning barricades on roads.

During the past week in Martinique and neighbouring Guadeloupe, demonstrators have taken to the streets in protest of mandatory vaccination rules for health workers, a requirement also in place in mainland France, and other restrictions related to COVID-19.

Protesters have set fire to tyres and rubbish bins and blocked roadways, while police in Martinique came under gunfire this week amid the unrest. The authorities said on Wednesday that they had taken control of several petrol stations due to concerns about fuel supplies.

On Thursday, the leaders of 17 trade union organisations that launched a general strike in Martinique were meeting with local authorities in an attempt to reach a solution.

In addition to ending the vaccination obligation, protesters have been calling for salary increases and lower petrol prices.

In a statement, the Martinique authorities announced that a curfew was being imposed from 7pm to 5am local time (23:00-09:00 GMT) “until calm is restored” in order to “facilitate the intervention of the security forces”.

The territory has experienced “a period of urban, nighttime violence” since November 22, the statement read. It also said 11 people were arrested and several weapons had been confiscated, without going into further detail.

Meanwhile, Sebastien Lecornu, the French minister responsible for the country’s overseas territories, held a videoconference on Thursday morning with the mayors of Guadeloupe, among other officials, “in order to take stock of the health, security and social situation” there.

A similar meeting is scheduled for Friday with other territorial officials, Lecornu’s office said in a statement. “During these free and open exchanges, particular attention will be paid to the priorities of Guadeloupean youth,” the ministry said.

French Prime Minister Jean Castex on Monday announced the creation of a dialogue process to “convince and accompany, individually and humanely” the health workers who have raised concerns about the vaccination requirement.

But while the protests began over coronavirus curbs, Al Jazeera’s Natacha Butler said people in Guadeloupe have since used them to voice their anger about longstanding problems in the French territory.

“This is about many people in Guadeloupe feeling as if the French government [is] constantly telling them what to do, even though they are some 7,000 kilometres away in Paris,” Butler reported on Thursday from outside a hospital in Pointe-a-Pitre where health workers were protesting.

“Many people here are saying that they feel Paris constantly treats them as second-class citizens. There are problems with high unemployment here, there are problems with poverty,” she said.

“For them, in a way, these protests over COVID restrictions are an opportunity to voice their grievances over a number of issues.”

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies