Man killed as Guadeloupe violence continues

 

A union representative was shot dead and several policemen were wounded by protesters on the French Caribbean island of Guadeloupe overnight in growing violence over the cost of living.

A month-long general strike has spread to neighbouring Martinique and in the past few days has become more bitter as negotiations failed to produce a solution, fuelling fears the protests might fan trouble in mainland France.

The mayor of Pointe-a-Pitre said gunfire rang out all night. "No one can go out onto the streets," Jacques Bangou told Europe 1 radio. "For the past 48 hours, the streets have been in the hands of groups of young people, completely out of control."

A senior government official said the union representative was shot after he drove up to a barricade set up by youths in Guadeloupe's biggest town, Pointe-a-Pitre. Three policemen were hit by gunfire as they tried to reach the scene, he said.

A group of some 30-50 people broke into a shopping centre in Pointe-a-Pitre and fired shots at police in a standoff lasting about an hour, a police spokesman said. He said three officers were slightly wounded by gunfire in other incidents, while French media said at least six officers had been injured in clashes.

Guadeloupe, a region of France, has been brought to a standstill for the past month by a general strike over high prices for food and other necessities. Concerns have grown about a possible spillover of unrest to the French mainland, where up to 2.5 million people took part in demonstrations last month to protest against the government's handling of the economy.

President Nicolas Sarkozy has not spoken publicly about Guadeloupe, concentrating on trying to defuse the union protests in mainland France. He is to meet Guadeloupe parliamentarians tomorrow.

Guadeloupe depends heavily for fuel and food staples on imports and prices are higher than in mainland France, while unemployment is more than 20 per cent and wages are lower.

Most of the island's big businesses are in the hands of a minority of "beke" or white families, many the descendants of slave-era colonists, which has added to protesters' grievances.

The strike has been led by an alliance of about 50 unions and associations known as "Liyannaj Kont Pwofitasyon" (LKP), or "Stand Up Against Exploitation" in local dialect. Elie Domota, leader of the LKP alliance, appealed for calm and said the violent incidents had been provoked by racist insults and brutality from police officers breaking up protests.

Reuters