France sends police to quell Guadeloupe violence

French gendarmes face-off against Guadeloupe protesters.
France is sending four state police units to its overseas department of Guadeloupe after a month of sometimes violent demonstrations, Interior Minister Michele Alliot-Marie said Thursday.

“The pillaging … the violence against people, are not tolerable and will not be tolerated,” Alliot-Marie told the French radio station RTL. “It’s no longer simply a question of containing the protests. … This mission of honor will continue to be undertaken, but we also have to fight against the violence.” French President Nicolas Sarkozy planned to meet with elected officials from overseas departments, including Guadeloupe, Thursday afternoon, his office announced. A general strike over low wages and living conditions in the Caribbean island has included demonstrations and clashes with police. At least one civilian has been killed in the riots, officials said. 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 he is ready to approve a compromise that would give nearly a €200 ($254) monthly supplement to workers in Guadeloupe with low-paying jobs. “This crisis is serious, and profound, but it’s not new,” Fillon said, adding that it’s linked to “the lifelessness of the economy in the Antilles, aggravated by the global economic crisis.” Sending supplementary police forces is justified, Fillon said, because “we cannot accept what has happened” in the department. He was referring to the attacks on businesses, the roadblocks in the streets and above all, the death of the civilian, who he said was a union leader. Agence France-Presse identified the victim as union representative Jacques Bino. He was shot dead Tuesday night when he drove past a roadblock manned by armed youths in the city of Pointe-a-Pitre. His car was hit three times by shotgun fire, prosecutors told AFP. Three police who accompanied emergency services trying to help the dying man were lightly wounded, officials said, according to AFP. Speaking with RTL on Wednesday, one demonstrator denied he was fanning the flames of unrest. “We have always called for calm,” Elie Domota, leader of the Coalition against Exploitation, said. “We have told the young people to go to their homes and continue to protest peacefully, but the police yesterday beat protesters and called them racist names, so the situation escalated.”