Union official killed as general strike on island of Guadeloupe turns violent


THE MONTH-LONG strike on the French West Indian island of Guadeloupe has turned violent, claiming the life of a tax official in his 50s amid widespread rioting overnight on Tuesday.

Jacques Bino was approaching a roadblock set up by armed youths in Point-à-Pitre, the largest town in Guadeloupe, when his car was hit three times by 12-gauge Brenneke-style shotgun slugs, Agence France Presse reported.

The fatal round went through the front window, hitting union representative Bino in the chest.

Six policemen were slightly wounded in clashes with rioters armed with hunting rifles. Police fired tear gas.

The local prosecutor, Jean-Michel Pretre, said there were no police nearby when Mr Bino was killed, and he speculated that the youths may have mistaken the official for a plainclothes policeman. Guadeloupe has a homicide rate four times that of mainland France, he added.

With Mr Bino’s death, the Paris government has taken serious notice of the crisis in Guadeloupe and in the fellow French island Martinique, 160km away.

The airport in Point-à-Pitre is closed because staff are unable to negotiate roads blocked by burning barricades.

Jacques Bangou, the mayor of Point-à-Pitre, said: “For the past 48 hours the streets have been in the hands of groups of young people, completely out of control.”

Commentators see the violence as a throwback to colonial times, with impoverished blacks throwing stones and firing hunting rifles at white policemen.

The general strike, which began on January 20th, is headed by a grouping of 50 unions and associations calling themselves Liyannaj Kont Pwofitasyon, meaning “Stand Up Against Exploitation”.

The group’s spokesman, Elie Domota, told RTL radio: “Guadeloupe is a colony, because in a French department, they would never have let the situation deteriorate before intervening.”

Much of Guadeloupe’s economy is in the hands of békés, descendants of white plantation owners who colonised the islands in the 17th and 18th centuries. Rioters have singled out symbols of béképower for looting and arson attacks. One target, the Carrefour supermarkets, are owned by a wealthy békénamed Bernard Hayot. His group has doubled its turnover from €1 billion to €2 billion since 2002, Le Mondereported. Rioters also attacked an automobile concession, a tyre store and the nautical shop that supplied yachts in the marina.

Guadeloupe is part of the EU and uses the euro as its currency. Most food is imported, and is more expensive than on the mainland, but wages are lower and unemployment is at more than 20 per cent.

Paris has rejected the chief demand of the strikers for a €200 monthly rise for the lowest wage-earners.