France pledges $730M to head off Caribbean riots

French gendarmes face-off against Guadeloupe protesters.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy is pledging $730 million (? 580 million) in economic aid to France’s Caribbean territories in an effort to head off escalating protests, his office said Friday.

Sarkozy made the announcement after a meeting in Paris with leaders from French Caribbean territories. He also proposed adding €200 ($253) a month to the salaries of low-paid workers. The French territory of Guadeloupe has witnessed a month of sometimes violent demonstrations over low wages and living conditions. At least one civilian, a trade unionist, has been killed in riots. French Interior Minister Michele Alliot-Marie on Thursday announced the deployment of four state police units to Guadeloupe . “We have the duty to listen to our countrymen and at the same time, we must bring law and order back as quickly as possible,” Sarkozy said in remarks Thursday. “Our countrymen expect the state to protect them. It’s unacceptable that a trade unionist has been killed. This is murder. It’s a hateful act that has nothing to do with the social crisis.”

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Hospitals and emergency services continue to function and the main international airport is open, but petrol stations, schools, and most businesses — including supermarkets and car rental offices — are closed, the British Foreign Office said in a travel advisory. Hotels are open, but the strike is causing daily cuts to electricity and water supplies, the Foreign Office said. French Prime Minister Francois Fillon said Thursday the crisis is linked to “the lifelessness of the economy in the Antilles , aggravated by the global economic crisis.”